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Cuba Announces New IT Policy and Does Not Mention Internet Access

Las redes sociales han sido utilizadas en Cuba para la movilización ciudadana en iniciativas ecológicas como Twittsaneo (Foto: Jorge Luis Sánchez, reproducida con autorización)

Social networks have been used in Cuba for citizen demonstrations in ecological initiatives like Twittsaneo. Photo by Jorge Luis Sánchez, reproduced with permission.

Specialists in the IT and telecommunications sectors will discuss an IT policy in Havana that is intended to be “inclusive, modern, and facilitate sustainable processes over time,” said Ailyn Febles Estrada, Vice Chancellor of the University of Information Science, to Cubadebate

According to Febles, “all opinions from professionals linked to the sector are important” in defining and executing the new policy. 

Nevertheless, this vision excludes—at least initially—those who are not considered “industry experts,” in a context where ICT use and access is of interest to all of society, and is even one of the talking points in the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States. Febles did not allude to Internet access either, which should be a central topic in any discussion on information and communication policies. 

The National Workshop on Informatization and Cybersecurity will bring together over 11,000 computer experts, mostly connected via video conference in 21 sub-sites located across all of the country's provinces. On February 19 and 20, the event will be held in the Center for Integrated Technology Research at the José Antonio Echeverría Superior Polytechnic Institute, and around 260 experts will participate, analyzing topics such as human and scientific resources, e-government, computer security, the economy and legislation, Cubadebate explains. 

Additionally, they will analyze “the bases of the policy for developing secure informatization in the country, its national priorities, as well as the details on beginning the process of creating a new social organization that will bring together ICT-related professionals.” 

The “Governing Program of Informatization in Cuban Society,” adopted in 2005 and currently in force, establishes

La Informatización de la sociedad es el proceso de utilización ordenada y masiva de las Tecnologías de la Información y las Comunicaciones en la vida cotidiana, para satisfacer las necesidades de todas las esferas de la sociedad, en su esfuerzo por lograr cada vez más eficacia y eficiencia en todos los procesos y por consiguiente mayor generación de riqueza y aumento en la calidad de vida de los ciudadanos.

The informatization of society is the process of orderly and mass use of Information and Communications Technology in daily life to meet the needs of all areas of society, each time in an effort to achieve more effectiveness and efficiency and therefore greater wealth and an increase in the quality of life for citizens. 

In a research study conducted for CLACSO [pdf] (the Latin American Council of Social Sciences), Cuban professor and journalist Milena Recio considers that “the unilateralism of the [2005] policy, and the low levels of social participation in its design, determine that this notion [of orderly use] points more to regulated, scheduled, assigned use, which somewhat contradicts the very spirit of networks and the social impact that is expected in terms of developing and expanding the traditional boundaries for freedom of individuals in society.” 

“It has not been massive, understood in its quantitative aspect, directly at least. The data confirms this,” Recio adds. 

The latest statistics (pdf) from the Cuban National Bureau of Statistics and Information reflect that in 2013, only 26% of the Cuban population had access to an Internet service or a home network, which only provides e-mail and allows the use of websites located in the country.

The policy of Internet access in Cuba favors free use in universities and research centers, but limits public access points with high prices in comparison to citizens’ average income. One hour of Internet browsing costs $4.50, and only 60 cents when it is for domestic use. The average monthly salary in Cuba is $25 CUC (roughly convertible to $25 USD). 

During the first round of talks between Cuba and the United States, held in Havana in January 2015, Josefina Vidal said that Cuba was willing “to welcome U.S. telecommunications companies to explore business opportunities in this field (…) that may be beneficial for the country.” 

A look at the most controversial resolution 

Caricatura de Lázaro Saavedra (reproducida con autorización)

“The Internet is shit! Let's see… whoever wants Internet, raise your hand.” Cartoon by Lázaro Saavedra (reproduced with permission).

In late July 2007, the Ministry of Informatics and Communications issued Resolution 127. The Safety Regulation for Security for Information Technologies annex contained various controversial articles that have been analyzed in Cuban blogs in recent times. Article 72, for example, “prohibits the placement of pages or websites from state entities on foreign servers that offer these services for free.” This would include blog and social network services used by university professors, students, doctors, and other users that access the Internet from these state institutions. 

On his blog ZorphDark, Alejandro Cuba commented:

Partiendo de la existencia de múltiples grupos, sociedades e individuos con intereses afines a la política estatal, es válido cuestionar los costos y la eficiencia de los mecanismos burocráticos que limitan la posibilidad de brindar sus contenidos bajo el dominio .cu. Ni hablar de las comparativas entre la calidad de los servicios sin costo que ofrecen reconocidas empresas foráneas respecto a las escasas alternativas nacionales.

Based on the existence of multiple groups, societies, and individuals with similar interests to the state policy, it is valid to question the costs and efficiency of bureaucratic mechanisms that limit the possibility of providing their content under the .cu domain. Not to mention the comparisons between the quality of the free services that recognized foreign companies offer and the limited national alternatives. 

Other articles prohibit “the establishment of email accounts from state agencies on servers located outside the country, considering that the uncertainty of the use of such means for the entity is beyond the control of the Cuban State,” and suggest that “subscribing to email lists and using chat services by the staff of an entity be authorized under the direction of the entity itself in all cases.” 

This resolution has provided a legal framework for penalizing, expelling, and taking administrative action against bloggers and social network users who occasionally publish posts that are considered “politically incorrect” by some managers of state workplaces. Nonetheless, nobody seems to remember when professionals use their personal sites online to transmit a triumphalist and non-controversial image of Cuban reality.

Another literacy campaign 

La campaña de alfabetización permitió erradicar el analfabetismo y facilitar el acceso universal a los distintos niveles de educación de manera gratuita

The literacy campaign allowed for the eradication of illiteracy and facilitated universal access to different levels of free education.

An article published in the Temas journal concludes that “the use of ICT in Cuba and the assumption of the Internet as a repository of information, a tool for e-commerce, and/or for the development of political campaigns, almost always from a vision of dissemination, is a long way off from the necessary understanding of this scenario as a space for conversations and direct dialogue between representatives and the people.” Back in 2011, in La Jiribilla, Recio said:  

Cuando en 1961 el pueblo cubano decidió conquistar para sí su derecho al futuro mediante la diseminación de las “letras” a través de una campaña masiva de alfabetización, estaba, al mismo tiempo, ofreciendo el “arma” liberadora de la lecto-escritura y resolviendo una gran deuda social con el ciclo tecnocultural gutemberiano.

Cincuenta años después, en los nuevos escenarios, es acaso imprescindible otra alfabetización, esta vez para insertarse más plenamente en el nuevo ciclo tecnocultural abierto por la infocomunicación digital.

Esta otra alfabetización —digital / informacional— que necesitamos, parece ser un asunto tan urgente como el del marabú. Resolver la infección de las tierras es condición para ofrecer alimento a los estómagos; desperezarse, ir en campaña hacia un modelo de sociedad sustentada en el valor del conocimiento nos daría ciertas garantías para un futuro en el que toda vocación no se reduzca al mero estómago.

When in 1961 the Cuban people decided to conquer their right to the future for themselves through the spread of “letters” via a massive literacy campaign, it was simultaneously offering the liberating “weapon” of reading and writing, while solving a great social debt with the Gutenberg techno-cultural cycle.

Fifty years later, in the new scenarios, another literacy is almost imperative, this time to insert yourself more fully into the new techno-cultural cycle opened by digital info-communication.

This other alphabetization – the digital/informational kind – that we need, seems to be as urgent an issue as the marabou one. Curing the infection of the lands is conditional to offering food to the stomach; stretching out, going on a campaign towards a societal model sustained in the value of knowledge would give us certain guarantees for a future in which every vocation is not reduced to the mere stomach.

  • lpress

    Has there been a formal publication of a new IT policy? If not, will there be at this workshop?
    Also — the 26% Internet access figure reported by the ONEI is not referring to international access is it? (Nor does it say anything about frequency of access or connection speed).

    • oaguilar

      I know that by just being communists they will always have internet censorship, like China and other countries, but to be honest it is not a profitable business to install fiber optics broad band cables to provide internet access to residential homes when the average income is $25 a month. No poor country can do that. An internet monthly payment of $30 to $60 in the US is not outrageous, but salaries are way higher; for Cuba even $15 is almost your monthly income,

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  • HumbertoCapiro

    WHEN WILL THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION LEARN THAT THE CASTRO OLIGARCHY MAFIA JUST LIES TO GET WHAT IT WANTS!

    THE ECONOMIST: Cuba and the internet – Wired, at last – Mar 3rd 2011

    ACCORDING to government figures, only 3% of Cubans frequently use the internet, making the communist island the least connected place in the Americas. Those that do require patience: according to an industry survey, Cuba’s dial-up internet access is the world’s second-slowest, after Mayotte, a French territory in the Indian Ocean. Under the guise of rationing the use of bandwidth, internet access is banned in most private homes and censored in offices. In 2009 Barack Obama authorised American companies to provide internet services to the island. But Cuba showed no interest in exploring the possibility. Instead it turned to its ally and benefactor, Venezuela.

    http://www.economist.com/node/18285798

  • HumbertoCapiro

    WHEN WILL THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION LEARN THAT THE CASTRO OLIGARCHY MAFIA JUST LIES TO GET WHAT IT WANTS!
    WASHINGTON POST: U.S. Telecoms Eager to Build a Business Presence in Cuba – By Cecilia Kang -April 15, 2009
    U.S. telecommunication firms could open up investment in Cuba now that the Obama administration will allow companies to operate there, a final global frontier for the Internet age.
    But before cellphone and Internet providers rush in, they will closely study potential pitfalls in setting up shop in the Communist nation with one of the poorest populations in the region, analysts said.
    The Cuban government has not been helpful in allowing its citizens access to communications technology, said David Gross, who was U.S. ambassador and coordinator for International Information and Communications Policy during the Bush administration. Now that the United States has opened the door, he said, “the question is whether the Cuban government will allow people to come inside.”
    Cuba has the lowest percentage of telephone, Internet and cellphone subscribers in Latin America, according to Manuel Cereijo, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Miami. About 11 percent of residents subscribe to land-line telephone service, and 2 percent have cellphone service.
    Under President Obama’s plan, U.S. telecom companies would be able to build undersea cable networks that connect the two nations. Cellphone carriers would be able to contract with Cuba’s government-run wireless operator to provide service to its residents and offer roaming services to Americans visiting the island.
    U.S. satellite operators such as Sirius XM Radio and Dish Network could beam Martha Stewart and MTV programs to the nation. Cubans could also receive cellphones and computers donated from overseas.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/14/AR2009041403144.html

  • HumbertoCapiro

    WHEN WILL THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION LEARN THAT THE CASTRO OLIGARCHY MAFIA JUST LIES TO GET WHAT IT WANTS!
    United States: New Rules Regarding Telecommunications Service To Cuba
    Last Updated: December 2 2009
    In early September, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and the Commerce Department Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) published long-awaited regulations implementing the Cuba policies announced by the White House in April 2009. In a sweeping departure from prior U.S. policy, these presidential policies – which are intended to promote the freer flow of information to the Cuban people – significantly reduce the licensing requirements and other barriers for telecommunications providers to offer services to Cuba. In addition, they authorize the following: transactions involving the establishment of new fiber-optic cable and satellite facilities between the U.S. and Cuba roaming agreements with Cuban telecommunication providers expanded travel to Cuba in connection with business activities related to telecommunications These changes may be a major boon to American telecommunications companies, which have sought to do business in Cuba for many years. The ultimate outcome of the White House initiative, however, hinges on a number of factors. Although new regulations have been adopted by certain U.S. government agencies, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is awaiting State Department guidance and has not yet changed its Cuba policies, which date back to 1993. It is not known how the State Department and the FCC will conform its policies to the White House initiative – nor is it known how the Cuban government will react to the policy changes.
    http://www.mondaq.com/unitedstates/x/90268/Licensing+Syndication/New+Rules+Regarding+Telecommunications+Service+To+Cuba

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