The Landscape Before the Storm

La sede principal de la empresa Etecsa en La Habana
The headquarters of the State phone company ETECSA in Havana. (14ymedio)

Before the downpour there is a scent that crosses the city. It is the premonition of water, the anticipation of the cloudburst. The birds fly to their nests and the most cautious seek a doorway where they can shelter until the rain passes. This impression of something approaching is being felt lately about a possible opening of Internet connectivity for all Cubans. There is nothing concrete to point to confirm our massive entry into cyberspace, but the gusts of impatience can be felt in the air.

The topic of the web of networks has reached significant prominence in the official discourse of the last half year. Barack Obama’s administration had to “make a move” to wake up the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Information and Communications, who are trained to go on the defensive. With the January 16 th implementation of a package of flexibility measures, outstanding among them links to the sector of new technologies and connectivity, the White House has set more than one person scuttling on this island.

Four years after the installation of the fiber optic cable between Cuba and Venezuela, it seems that officialdom can no longer justify why we are among the countries with the least connectivity on the entire planet. On the other hand, American companies such as Verizon or AT&T, breathing down the neck of Cuba’s ETECSA phone company, are working as a catalyst to implement a data service that allows the Cuban telephone monopoly to hold on to the national market.

Conveniently, a document was leaked that puts into writing the national strategy for the development of broadband connectivity infrastructure in Cuba

The lesson of  Isabel Dos Santos, the richest woman in Africa and the daughter of the Angolan president, should be keeping the dauphins of power in Cuba awake right now. They know that whoever gets a slice of the telephone and communications market will have a guaranteed fortune exceeding a lot of zeros. However, they are also aware that a company of this type requires agreements, roaming contracts, favorable rate packages, attractive offers for users. In the world we live in it can be summed up in one word: connectivity.

This reality is denied by the ideological outbursts, in the style of  Abel Prieto when he claimed that he will give “free and open access to the Internet, and not to those who have money, but to those who need it to support their studies and research.” Mobile phone service alone shows that in the battle between politics and the market the latter comes out the winner. Cubacel users – save those who receive the privilege because they work for State Security or other strategic sectors – pay for it in convertible pesos. To purchase a cellphone requires the harsh practice of money in your wallet, not fidelity to any idea.

A few days ago, conveniently, a document was leaked that puts into writing the national strategy for the development of broadband connectivity infrastructure in Cuba. Despite the enthusiasm with which the text was received by those thirsting for the Internet, the deadlines proposed by the program are, at the very least, unconsidered. It talks about “reaching no less than 50% of households with access to broadband Internet by 2020,” while two years ago it was expected to have 100% connectivity “in Party organizations at the national, provincial and municipal levels, in State agencies, and in the Central Administrative Organs of the State.” It is not unlikely that right now there are people who are joining the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in order to attain access to the vast World Wide Web.

It is not unlikely that right now there are people who are joining the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in order to attain access to the vast World Wide Web.

On the other hand, Brett Perlmutter, director of Google Ideas, is visiting Cuba this week. His presence has been explained to the media as an exploration to “bring better Internet access to the Island.” According to a State Department official who asked to remain anonymous, “Google has made a proposal to the Cuban Government to help with the connectivity of the population,” adding, “we don’t know what they have proposed, but they have proposed something.”

Beyond what Google achieves, between official suspicion and postponements by Cuban functionaries, his presence on the Island reinforces the sense of urgency. He transmits to the Cuban Government the impression that its closing the doors to the sea of kilobytes not only is not working, but is under threat of being swept away from abroad and from within. Helium balloons, mini-satellites, WiFi antennas made from Pringles bags, clandestine wireless networks that share content, and even the irreverent weekly “ Packet” of audiovisuals, are jeopardizing a structure designed for censorship, but inefficient in managing an opening.

There is a smell of rain these days. A gust of damp certitude that is wafting the bird of the Internet our way.


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