Cuba to launch Internet access on mobile phones

Nearly half of the Communist-run country's 11.2 million residents have mobile phones although not all will be able to afford mobile Internet.
Nearly half of the Communist-run country's 11.2 million residents have mobile phones although not all will be able to afford mobile Internet.PHOTO: REUTERS

HAVANA (REUTERS) - Cubans will be able to access the Internet on their mobile phones from Thursday (Dec 6), state-run telecoms monopoly ETECSA said, marking a milestone for what has long been one of the Western Hemisphere's least connected countries.

Nearly half of the Communist-run country's 11.2 million residents have mobile phones although not all will be able to afford mobile Internet.

In a news show broadcast late on Tuesday, ETECSA executives announced a range of packages valid for 30 days from 600 MB for the equivalent of US$7 dollars (S$9.50) to 4 GB for US$30. Without a package, 100 MB will cost users US$10.

The cost will be out of reach for many Cubans as the average state wage is around US$30 a month and many people rely on remittances from relatives abroad or side gigs to get by.

"It was about time this became a possibility for Cubans too," said Havana resident Joaquin Montiel, 58. "But for some, like me, it's still a remote one."

Mr Montiel said he would not be able to afford a mobile phone with 3G technology on his wage of less than US$20 a month as a salesman in a state company.

Cuba has lagged far behind most countries in Web access, whether because of a lack of cash, a long-running US trade embargo or concerns about the flow of information.

 
 
 

Until 2013, Internet was largely only available to the public at tourist hotels on the island.

But the government has since made boosting connectivity a priority, introducing cybercafes and outdoor Wi-Fi hotspots and slowly starting to hook up homes to the Web.

"It will be good to be able to connect to the web with greater comfort," said Mr Guillermo Diaz, 38, who frequently heads to a Wi-Fi hotspot in a park near his home to videochat with family members who have emigrated to the United States.

Many Cubans complain about having to brave insects and the elements at the hotspots, which also lack privacy.

ETECSA vice-president Tania Velazquez said the company would be rolling out the service over several days to avoid the network congestion that occurred during mobile Internet testing earlier this year.

Many Cubans complained they could not use their mobile phones for making calls or sending text messages during the tests.

"The quality of service will be a key factor during the rollout of mobile Internet," said Mr Norges Rodriguez, one of the editors of YucaByte, a Cuban media outlet on telecoms and their impact on society.

Ms Velazquez announced that access to state-run applications and websites like Ecured, a Cuban Wikipedia, would be significantly cheaper than access to the World Wide Web.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who succeeded Mr Raul Castro in April, has championed greater connectivity, underscoring the potential for the Internet to boost the economy and enable Cuba to better defend its revolution online.

He opened a Twitter account in October to much fanfare and many government officials have followed his lead.