Cubans enjoy free Internet service at home in pilot program

Source:Xinhua Published: 2016/12/30 8:22:24

These days the historic center of Havana is buzzing with major news. This is not due to the arrival of an American cruise ship, the restoration of an antique building or an increase in tourism.

A technological event has touched 2,000 families in central Havana, which may signify the gradual start of Cubans having access to Internet at home.

ETECSA, Cuba's state telecoms company, has pioneered this pilot program, which will last until the end of February, to gauge the possibility of bringing home Internet access to Cubans across the country.

Since December 19, users of the area have been called by ETECSA to come to its local office, where they were briefed on the test, asked to sign a contract and given the equipment needed to set up their free ADSL Internet connection.

"I never thought I would have Internet at home, yet we were given the opportunity to participate in this test. It is wonderful," Lourdes Savon, a resident of the area, told Xinhua.

Savon added that very few people on the island can enjoy such service in their homes, making her all the happier to be participating in this trial.

Currently, only doctors, journalists, scientists and other select professionals in Cuba are allowed to have Internet at home, on condition of government approval.

"This test represents a very good opportunity for the Cuban people to approach new technology and access the Internet in their own homes," said the Havana housewife.

In the test, users can access 30 free hours of Internet a month, with speeds ranging from 128 KB to 2 MB per second.

Once this free time is used up, they can recharge their accounts at a cost of 1.5 CUC (1.5 US dollar) per hour.

"With this wonderful opportunity we can communicate instantly with our families. I'm able to talk to my son who is working in Spain," said Savon.

Meanwhile, Jorge Romero, a 67-year-old surgeon, said the Internet pilot program is very "useful and necessary", as he previously only had access to a domestic network specialized in medicine.

"In my case, it gives me new options to search for more extensive medical information. Previously, I had limited access to the Internet but I now have the opportunity to research and read medical information and general news at home," the doctor told Xinhua.

Once the test is completed, ETECSA will offer these users the possibility to keep the service in their homes with prices ranging from 15-115 CUC (15-115 US dollars) a month, depending on the connection speed chosen.

For many Cubans, this price may be offputting as the average salary in the country is around 30 US dollars a month. However, this is balanced by the broad desire to access the Internet and easily communicate with the world.

"We're evaluating the possibility of keeping the service once the test is finished to see if we can afford it," said Romero.

The island's National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) published statistics earlier this year, which stated that Cuba had almost 4 million registered Internet users in 2015.

According to data by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Cuba's Internet penetration in 2016 reached 32.4 percent of its population, one of the lowest rates in the region.

However, ETECSA is working on an accelerated strategy to expand Internet access.

This plan saw the installation of over 1,000 public Wi-fi hotspots since July 2015, which attract hundreds of thousands of users daily.

Until 2013, Cuba could only connect to the Internet via expensive satellite connections, but a joint fiber optic cable with Venezuela and Jamaica is now providing higher connectivity speed and new development possibilities.

The telecommunications sector has been a priority during Washington's recent thaw with Havana. Several US companies have signed cooperation agreements with ETECSA to provide roaming services to their users who visit the Caribbean nation.

Posted in: AMERICAS

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