Is Cuba Gearing Up to Go Online?

Cuba Internet

Internet usage in Cuba isn’t anywhere near as restrictive as it is in North Korea, but it sure is painful. With connections only possible via satellite, the cost of getting online in the tropical communist paradise is extremely prohibitive for the vast majority of its citizens – not to mention as slow as molasses.

Tourists report that the internet is so bad in Cuba that even sending out something as simple as an email can be laboriously slow – which means you can usually forget all about trying to connect to image-heavy sites like Facebook. In addition, internet connections are pretty damn rare too, usually being limited to hotels popular with foreigners and government buildings.

However, this state of affairs might be about to change, with researchers saying that Cuban internet activity has shown some sparks of life in recent weeks. Increased connectivity could bring about more openness in one of the world’s most tightly controlled nations, although we should probably refrain from lighting up a Havana cigar in celebration for the time being.

One of the problems Cuba has faced in getting connected is the embargo placed on it by the US, which means that running an undersea cable the short distance to Florida is out of the question. To circumvent this, Cuba instead laid an undersea cable southwards, connecting the country to friendly Venezuela, but since completing this project in 2011 the cable has, well, just laid there.

Now though, web traffic monitors at Renesys say that the cable has suddenly sparked into life, albeit rather curiously. According to them, the cable is now seeing some traffic – only it appears to be exclusively inbound.

“In the past week, our global monitoring system has picked up indications that this cable has finally been activated, although in a rather curious way,” said researcher Doug Madory in a blog post.

Madory said that the signs were encouraging, as they came on the same day as Cuba announced it was doing away with a long-standing requirement that all citizens obtain an exit visa before leaving the country. However, he points out that even though the island now has a (slightly) faster connection, the majority of people still cannot get online:

“While the activation of the ALBA-1 cable may be a good first step to providing ETECSA a better link to the Internet, the lack of widespread public access to Internet service throughout the island will likely continue.”

Interestingly, for a nation that seems to want to keep its citizens so tightly under the thumb, Cuba doesn’t seem to employ any kind of censorship in the style of China’s Great Firewall. However, the Cuban regime does at least appear to keep tabs on what its citizens get up to online, as the recent arrest of activist blogger Yoani Sanchez reminds us.