I’ve recently returned from a holiday in Havana, Cuba. It was a memorable experience in many ways. One of which was down to their lack of internet access.
Up until recently, Cuba was totally controlled by the government. In recent years, small private businesses have been allowed to operate, but only in a small number of sectors. E.g. tourism. Consequently, tourism now brings more money into the country than any other industry.
The state still has complete control over internet access in the country. The ability to go online was also one of the factors that made my stay a unique experience. For the first time in over a decade, I underwent a digital detox! I didn’t have access to phone, SMS or internet for a week.
High Costs Result in Digital Detox
This was much easier than I expected. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I didn’t really feel that I was missing out. There is a real sense of freedom in knowing that whatever is happening back home, it doesn’t and can’t affect me.
Of course, I’d find it much harder to turn off my phone for a day when at home, but the choice was pretty much made for me. My phone network had no roaming agreements with any Cuban networks and buying internet access involved queuing up at a government run outlet, buying some tokens and then finding a slow public Wifi hotspot to use these at. (At the cost of $1.50/hour) It really was more hassle than I wanted on a relaxing holiday.
This attitude to getting online is very laid back in some ways. For many Cubans this gives them a whole lot of new opportunities. They can promote their businesses to tourists online, speak to family who live abroad, find out what is happening in the free world and sneak a glimpse of what their country could be like if governed differently.
The cost of $1.50 doesn’t seem too much, but when the average state worker in Cuba earns $20-$40/month, this is inaccessible to a lot of Cubans. (Not to those who can rent out a spare room on AirBnB for $40/night though).
Internet Access Requires Investment and Ideas
The high cost has resulted in lots of innovation. El Paquete is an offline peer to peer distribution network where films, software, Wikipedia archives etc are shared via hard drives. SNet is an online peer to peer network. Connectify have given out free licences to allow Government employees with free access to (illegally) share Wifi hotspots.
With more Cubans having access to the internet and expecting ever increasing capabilities, a lot of expensive infrastructure investment will be required. Hand in hand with this will be a requirement for WAN optimization. We are happy to do our bit to help others (and the people of Havana) have a better online experience through WAN Optimization.
If you think we can help your business, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org