By Rick Paulas
Cuba’s lagged behind on Internet penetration from the beginning. The reasons are multi-tiered, but all can be explained by their unique government. The fall of the Soviet Union plunged the country into a dire economic depression just as the early infrastructure was being laid down. The Internet’s reputation (rightfully so) of galvanizing a potential revolution didn’t put it high on the communist dictatorship’s to-do list. Having poor relations with an Internet superpower 90 miles away hasn’t helped.
All of that explains its current state. According to the 2015 rating of Internet freedom by independent watchdog Freedom House — which looked at the obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights — Cuba scored an 81 on a scale of 0 to 100. That looks good, until you realize that, like golf, you’re aiming for a low score. For comparison’s sake, Russia scores a 62 and China gets an 88, while America has a 19.
There is access available, but there are distinct barriers to getting it. The first among them is the expense. That two CUC-an-hour price is steep in the United States, where the median household income is a little more than $50,000, let alone where state salaries come out to about $600 a year. And while international travelers are allowed uncensored connectivity to everything on the Web — remember, you have to show your passport when buying those access cards — Cuban nationals are allowed to access only a limited number of sites.
Those two barriers have led to a situation where a great majority of the country’s Internet users are actually foreign travelers. Of its 11 million citizens, only about five percent have access to the Internet at home or work. This has created an information access point that’s based entirely on income. Those class-based restrictions aren’t exactly in line with the communist ethos the Castros and Che fought for back in the 1960s. How long until a country stuck in the past finally moves into the present?
Picture: Othmar Kyas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons