Cuba opens WI-FI hotspots across country

Cubans surf the web at new WI-FI hotspots throughout the island.

HAVANA, CUBA (JULY 2, 2015) (REUTERS) – Cuba has opened 35 Wi-Fi access points across the country, offering Cubans unprecedented online access in a country where until now the Internet has been restricted to an elite few.

Before the Wi-Fi signals started becoming available on Monday (June 29), broadband Internet access was limited to desktops at state Internet parlors, pricey hotel signals, and a few other isolated cases.

“It’s was high time for Cubans to get connected, everyone in the world has the right to internet. The things you can do are [on the internet] are very interesting – connect to Facebook, with people abroad, get to know new people,” said student Alejandro Costa, who connected to Wi-Fi in Havana on Thursday (July 2).

Whether because of a lack of investment or concerns over the flow in information where the Communist state monopolized the media, Cuba has lagged behind in Internet usage.

At a Havana street known as La Rampa, Cubans brought out smartphones new an old, whether purchased in state stores, on the black market, or gifts from friends and relatives abroad. Trouble-shooters working for the state telecoms monopoly Etecsa were on hand for assistance.

“They did the right thing, it’s a measure in which at least all young people, all Cubans now will not be forced to go to a hotel or specific place to be connected. I think it’s a good connection and they did the right thing,” said Juan Raciel Velasco.

Many mainly browsed Facebook at what officials said was a speed of one megabit per second per user.

An Etecsa official who declined to be identified said all 35 access points across the island started working on Monday (June 29).

Homemaker Yenisleydi Baldoquin was enthusiastic about the new hotspots, saying that not everyone in the world has the opportunity to use the web.

“It’s good for the people, it’s good – unfortunately not everywhere in the world has the same development [level], there are people who can’t,” she said.

The Cuban government also slashed prices from $4.50 to $2 an hour, now the cheapest Internet option available to Cubans, though still exorbitant for Cubans’ typical monthly salary of $20.

Student Abel Cruz Suarez said that having internet access was a good way to stay up-to-date on world events.

“That everyone in the world can sit on any corner and be able to connect [to the internet], to see what is happening in the world, get up-to-date, it’s a good alternative people have to learn more, to broaden [perspectives],” he said.

Many Cubans suspect the new development is related to the recent warming of U.S.-Cuba relations.

The two former Cold War rivals on Wednesday (July 1) agreed to reopen embassies and restore diplomatic relations as of July 20.

U.S.President Obama relaxed the U.S. economic embargo for U.S.telecommunications companies, hoping to promote the Internet in Cuba.