Cuba will expand limited public access to the Internet next month by opening up another 118 places where people on this communist-run island can surf the Web for a fee, authorities said Tuesday.
Set to start June 4, the extension takes advantage of an undersea fiber-optic cable from Venezuela and will gradually be rolled out further — but not to homes, according to a Communications Ministry resolution published in the Official Gazette and local media.
The notification says members of the public will be able to access the Web for $4.5 an hour, down from the current $6 an hour, or check their email for an unchanged $1.50.
These services “can only be accessed from the navigation rooms,” said the resolution, which specifically ruled out the installation of Internet connections in homes.
There are now more than 200 public Internet rooms in hotels on the island that sell connection cards that cost between $7 and $10. Post offices also provide access to email.
With Cubans making an average of $20 a month, the reduced fee likely won’t make much of a difference to most locals.
“As low as they may seem, they are still high in comparison with salaries we earn,” Tania Molina, a doctor, told AFP. “So we’ll continue as before.”
Cuba has one of the lowest levels of Internet access in Latin America: the number of users was 2.6 million in 2011 out of a population of 11.1 million, according to official statistics.
Most Cubans access the Internet in their places of work or study, as only doctors, journalists and certain other professionals are allowed to connect from home.
In January, state telecom agency Etecsa announced that an undersea fiber-optic cable from Venezuela had been activated for experimental use, the first hard-wired link from the island to international telecom networks.
Havana has been unable to join other undersea fiber-optic cable networks due to a US embargo in effect since 1962. Because of this, Cuba had connected to the Internet via slower satellites.
The government has blamed limited bandwidth for restrictions on Web access, saying it forces them to “prioritize” it for “social use” purposes, with universities, companies and research centers given preference.
But dissidents have said the government’s true goal is to control access to information and that it is another form of censorship in a country where all media outlets are state-controlled.
The US Interests Section in Havana and some European embassies offer free Internet access to dissidents.
Even government supporters have criticized the restrictions: in April 2012 some 60 pro-regime bloggers asked the government of Raul Castro to “reformulate” Internet limitation rules — which have spawned a black market — to promote a “greater presence of Cubans in cyberspace.”