Raul Castro has led Cuba since July 2006 and has been president since Feb. 26, 2008. Since then, he has implemented some progressive reforms in allowing access to technology. Cubans can purchase their own mobile phones and computers.

An internal memo seen by Reuters on March 13, 2008, disclosed that Cuba had authorized the unrestricted sale of computers. (Computers first went on sale in Havana, Cuba, on May 2, 2008.)

On March 28, 2008, the Cuban government announced the end to the ban on citizens buying and using cell phones. On Feb. 6, 2009, ETECSA (Telecommunications Company of Cuba) formally announced that the general public could sign prepaid phone contracts.

The Cuban Government permitted the sale of computers, cell phones and cell phone contracts in convertible pesos. Convertible pesos are geared toward tourists and foreigners. They are worth 24 times the regular pesos that Cuban state employees are paid in.

Internet use has gone up since Cubans were allowed to purchase computers. Cuba reports intranet use as Internet use even though access to the Internet is banned without government permission. Those who use cellphones alone are not considered Internet users because Cubans do not have Internet connectivity on their cellphones. The National Statistics Office reported the following number of Internet users out of a constant populace of approximately 11.2 million people:

Most notable is the increase of 7.2 percent in 2011 over the number of users in 2010.

 

Cell phone use has gone up since Cubans were allowed to purchase cellphones and contracts.  The National Statistics Office reported the following number of Internet users out of a constant populace of approximately 11.2 million people:

Most notable is a stable increase in the number of cell phone users between 2008 and 2011.

 

Cuba’s link to the Internet came via a fiber optic cable stretching 1,012 miles from a spot near Venezuela’s Port of La Guaira to the eastern Cuban town of Siboney. The $70 million price tag was paid for by Venezuela. A consortium including France’s Alcatel-Lucent and Britain’s Cable & Wireless set up the link.

The fiber optic cable, is called Alternativa Bolivariana para los Pueblos de nuestra América or ALBA-1 for short. The ALBA-1 has a 640 gigabyte capacity that is 3000 times faster than Cuba’s prior, slower Internet connection via satellite at 323 megabits per second.

On Jan. 12, 2011, the 1,630-kilometer ALBA-1 fiber optic cable left the Port of Calais, France for Venezuela, on the French ship Île de Batz.  The same ship left the Port of La Guaira on Jan. 22, 2011, to lay the cable on the seabed.  The cable was completed in Siboney, Cuba, on Feb. 8, 2011.

The ALBA-1 fiber optic cable was scheduled to be up and running by July 2011.  Activity on the link was detected by global Internet monitoring company Renesys. They discovered traffic from a new provider, Spanish Telecom Telefonica. Incoming traffic was detected on July 14, 2012.  Outgoing traffic was detected on Jan. 22.

On Jan. 24, ETECSA released a statement indicating that the ALBA-1 fiber optic cable was operating. It said, “The telecommunications system ALBA-1 submarine cable, that links Cuba with Venezuela and Jamaica using fiber optics, has been operating since August 2012, initially providing voice traffic corresponding to international telephony.”  Testing on Internet traffic of the cable began on Jan. 10.

Will Cuba now consider allowing its citizens more access to the Internet?  ETECSA’s same Jan. 24 statement released said, “After completion of testing, the commissioning of the submarine cable will not mean that the possibilities of access will automatically increase. It will be necessary to make investments in the domestic telecommunications infrastructure, and also to increase foreign exchange resources destined to pay for Internet traffic, in order to achieve the gradual growth of a service we provide free today mostly with social objectives.”


Rick Levin lives in Oxnard.