Jan. 23, 2013— -- Cubans now have high-speed internet, but it remains to be seen how that will impact the average citizen in the socialist republic.
Over the past week, internet monitoring company Renesys has been keeping a close eye on internet activity in Cuba, and announced in a blog post that a 640-gigabyte cable completed in 2011 -- two years behind schedule and costing $70 million -- had finally been activated.
Before the activation of the new cable, Cuba's internet had relied on satellite service and been relatively slow, largely because of restrictions under the U.S. trade embargo.
Currently, Cubans who have access to computers and the "state-run" intranet can visit sites like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, although their use is often restricted or impeded by slow connections. In addition, the Cuban government has launched its own versions of information-sharing sites like Facebook and Wikipedia, but Freedom House's report on Cuba's internet access describes these as having been met with "little success."
According to Reuters, when fully operational, the new cable will provide download speeds 3,000 times faster than what Cuba currently experiences and will be able to handle millions of phone calls simultaneously. Still, the change may be more helpful for government officials than for most Cubans since internet access is limited overall.
Today, about 16 percent of Cubans are "online," although they generally only have access to email and the intranet through work, school, or, according to Cuban officials, via government-operated computer clubs. Additionally, only 2.9 percent report full internet access, but "analysts say it's probably more like 5 or 10 percent due to under reporting of black-market resale of minutes."
A 2012 documentary called Ojos que te miran: Entre redes (Eyes That Look at You: Among the Networks) takes a look at the questions and complications that arise when Cuban students are taught computer skills from an early age, yet have, for the most part, lived in a country with restricted, expensive, and undependable access to the internet. According to a review in HavanaTimes.org, the documentary features, for example, a worker at one of the country's Youth Computer Clubs who is not able to access Wikipedia on the job, as well as a young man who shares that he pays the equivalent of $6 USD to access the internet in order to complete his graduate project.