What’s the real status of Internet access in Cuba?

by Matteo Ceurvels of  eMarketer (edited with Notes by Alan J Weissberger)

Few people in Cuba have regular access to the Internet, and those who do encounter slow download speeds, according to an eMarketer study. Although Cuba’s state-run service provider (see details below) has built WiFi hotspots throughout the country, the relatively high rate of $1.50 an hour is too much for most Cubans to pay.  [Please see references below for additional information on the WiFi hotspots in Cuba- mostly in Havana]

eMarketer estimates that there will be 360.4 million internet users in Latin America in 2017. While the market research firm does not break out specific metrics for Cuba, the latest figures from the government’s National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) show that over 4.5 million people, or roughly 40.3% of the total population, accessed the Internet at least once during 2016.

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Editor’s Note:  The actual ONEI ICT report (via Google Translate) states that for 2016 there were 403 people that accessed the Internet out of every 1,000 people living on the island. That compares with 348, 271, 261, 257 and 232 for the years 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 respectively.

The same report (which I don’t trust) says the mobile population coverage (not usage) has been 85.3% of the population from 2012-2016, up from 83.7% in 2011.

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The number of people with internet access in their homes was significantly lower: The BBC reported in March of last year that the at-home internet penetration rate was roughly 5%.

Web access in the country remains relegated to a few options. State-run telecom Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETECSA), which first began offering public Wi-Fi spots in 2015, claims to provide 391 such spots across the country. But at a cost of about $1.50 per hour, access remains too expensive for most Cubans, and internet speeds are reportedly excruciatingly slow.

ETECSA also began a pilot program in December of last year to provide some 2,000 users in Havana, Cuba’s capital, with fixed broadband internet access for a free two-month trial period. In March, ETECSA said 358 participants in the program signed up to pay for the service, which offered data speeds of between 128 kilobits per second (Kbps) and 2 megabits per second (Mbps).

And when residents of the country do manage to get online, they are subject to strict internet censorship overseen by the government. Some websites and services are blocked, and communications can easily be monitored by government figures.

During parliamentary sessions held in July, Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel acknowledged that Cuba has one of the lowest internet access rates, but rejected the notion that its society was “fully disconnected.”

He added that tech companies that had entered into agreements with the country’s government to provide them with the infrastructure necessary to expand internet access had been met with “fierce financial prosecution.”

Despite these claims, the government has sought out partnerships with some of the world’s leading tech companies. In April, Google brought servers in the country online for the first time, making it the first foreign tech firm to host its own content in Cuba.

At the parliamentary sessions, Díaz-Canel also claimed that the penetration of social media platforms had grown by 346% in 2016. (The government did not respond to eMarketer’s request to verify this figure.)

However, Martín Utreras, vice president of forecasting at eMarketer, noted that the majority of social media users in the country were most likely foreign tourists looking to stay connected while on vacation.

According to data from StatCounter, there are signs that Facebook is a leading social media platform in the country. Facebook was responsible for 83.3% of page views resulting from social network referrals in Cuba in July, more than either Pinterest (8.4%) or Twitter (4.3%). (StatCounter’s figures take into consideration website referral traffic from both locals and visitors in Cuba.)

Social Network Referral Share in Cuba, July 2017 (% of total page views referred by social networks)

Despite signs that internet access is increasing in the country, Cuba still has a long way to go before getting online is something residents consider normal. In fact, many in the country rely on “el paquete semanal,” or the weekly package—a hard drive that is loaded with contraband content such as news, music, TV shows and other videos and passed from person to person.

“Cuba’s journey resembles that of similar trends we’ve seen in the case of China or Vietnam,” Utreras said. “Although Cuba is still many years behind in terms of private telecom investment, infrastructure development and overall internet adoption, by comparison, the immediate future will most likely be driven by government interests rather than the market itself.”

Wifi hot spot in Old Town Havana

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References:

https://www.emarketer.com/Article/Cuba-on-Slow-Crawl-Toward-Increased-Internet-Access/1016352

http://www.one.cu/aec2016/17%20Tecnologias%20de%20la%20Informacion.pdf

http://www.businessinsider.com/is-there-internet-in-cuba-2017-1

https://insightcuba.com/blog/2017/03/05/havanas-wifi-hotspots-and-getting-online-cuba

Cuba to expand Internet access and lower price of WiFi connections

 

 

2 thoughts on “What’s the real status of Internet access in Cuba?

  1. Excellent summary of the state of Internet affairs in Cuba.
    Salary of most Cubans is $20 per month. Unless there is a huge subsidy to lower Internet usage charges it is difficult to believe there will be any meaningful increase in the general public’s usage.
    More free WiFi hot spots, especially outside of Havana, would also increase Internet usage on the island.

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