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There’s Finally Free Wifi in Cuba

Cuba becomes more connected

(Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Cuba has long been considered one of the least connected places in the world. But that’s changing—and for the first time, users can use free, public wifi at a cultural center in Havana.

The Associated Press reports that a famous Cuban artist, Kcho, has been given permission to use his personal Internet connection as the basis of a public wifi service at his cultural center. The move was authorized by ETECSA, the Cuban state telecom monopoly that recently reached a telecommunications agreement with the United States.

The existence of free, easily accessible wifi in Havana is an unprecedented move—and one that will cost the artist up to $900 a month, a fortune compared to the $20/month salary of the average Cuban. Though the state does offer internet access, it’s expensive for Cubans. Even after a recent discount, it costs residents ten percent of their monthly salary to access just an hour of internet at a government center. And the Guardian reports that only five percent of Cubans have free rein to explore the internet. The rest must content themselves with a “domestic intranet” that limits what they see on the web.

With the relationship between Cuba and America changing, the internet has become an area of fervent speculation. Will Google manage to corner an untapped market in Cuba? Will the internet foster democracy in Cuba? And what will Cubans want to watch on Netflix once the internet becomes more widely available? As for Kcho, he hopes his free wifi project will have a widespread impact for Cubans:

The artist said he opened up the hotspot to encourage Cubans to connect and familiarize themselves with the Internet.

“This is an unusual thing, and it's only possible through the will to do it and absorb the costs," Kcho told The Associated Press. “It is expensive, but the benefit is tremendous. ... I have something that is great and powerful. I can share it, and I am doing so.”

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