Lack of Internet keeps Cubans from accessing world
Published Monday, March 21, 2016 10:57PM EDT
When U.S. President Barack Obama landed in Cuba, one of his first messages to the island’s residents was posted on Twitter -- but it’s almost certain that 95 per cent of them never saw it.
Less than 3.4 per cent of Cuban households were connected to the web in 2013, according to the UN's International Telecommunication Union.
Last month, the country announced a pilot project that would allow Cubans in two Havana neighbourhoods to order service through fiber option connections operated by the Chinese telecom operator Huawei.
And general public access to broadband Internet began last year, with the installation of dozens of WiFi hotspots that cost $2 an hour.
But in a country with wide gap between the haves and have-nots, the price can mean the difference between using a payphone and getting online.
The average Cuban typically earns a monthly salary of about $20.
Hotels also offer the Internet, but at $5 an hour it's also too pricey for most Cubans.
So they crowd around the WiFi hotspots installed by the government. The signal is spotty and for one Cuban, who gave his name as Arland, it was a 20-minute bus ride from home.
Arland told CTV News in Spanish it is hard for him to make it to the hotspot to use the Internet.
The hotspots are often teeming with people, even though the government monitors all web activity and restricts access to many sites.
American student Kelsey McCann said the limited access has led to the creation of a "black market" to fill the gaps in service.
"They definitely want more social media," said McCann.
Few people are also given permission to have Internet access in homes.
In contrast, 97 per cent of Canadians have access to broadband Internet, according 2012 data from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
In the past, American telecoms have hit a wall when trying to open up shop in Cuba.
And though the government continues to install more WiFi, it doesn't want to give up control of the Internet.
But all that may be set to change, as the barriers between the U.S. and Cuba continue to fall.
One of many businesses who joined U.S. President Barack Obama on his trip to the Caribbean nation this week was Google. The technology giant announced plans to open a top-of-the-line technology centre that could offer free Internet at speeds nearly 70 times faster than what the Cuban public currently has access to.
Obama said Google's plans were part of a wider strategy to improve access to the Internet in Cuba.
With a report from CTV News' Todd Battis and files from The Associated Press