Cuba celebrates free nationwide mobile internet for a day

15 Aug 2018

A street in Havana, Cuba. Image: Darko-HD Photography/Shutterstock

The Cuban government says it provided free internet to the country’s millions of mobile phone users for a day during a special test run.

The Communist government in Cuba says it provided free mobile internet yesterday (14 August) in an eight-hour test before sales of the service launch.

Reuters reported that Cuba’s state-run telecommunications firm, ETECSA, announced the trial. Yesterday was the first time internet services were available nationwide in the country’s history.

Cuba relies on Wi-Fi

While there are many Wi-Fi hotspots on the island, home penetration levels are very low. Hotspots are also an expensive option. They currently charge $1 an hour compared to the average monthly state wage of $30, which makes them unaffordable for many. Until 2013, internet in Cuba was largely only available at tourist hotels.

In July, Cuba announced the provision of mobile internet for select users. These included journalists at state-run newsrooms.

Some people say that broader internet access could weaken government control over information people can access, which could threaten the administration’s current media monopoly.

Taxi driver Andres Peraza said: “This is marvellous news because we can talk with family abroad without going to specific Wi-Fi spots; there is more intimacy.”

It may be too expensive for some

There are no details yet on the potential cost for individual consumers but ETECSA is already charging embassies and enterprises $45 a month for 4GB of data.

In July of last year, president Miguel Díaz-Canel said: “We need to be able to put the content of the revolution online.” He added that Cubans could then “counter the avalanche of pseudo-cultural, banal and vulgar content”.

The government hopes to expand connectivity nationwide by the end of 2018. ETECSA has nearly 5m customers, which is around half the population of Cuba.

The country is only now rolling out 3G technology, despite the majority of Latin America being on 4G, with some 5G trials underway. A mobile banking service is also in the pipeline.

A street in Havana, Cuba. Image: Darko-HD Photography/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects