Cuba is taking small steps to loosen its grip on internet access in the country. Recently, a cultural center in Havana began rolling out access to free, public Wi-Fi — the first of its kind in Cuba. The country currently prioritizes its limited bandwidth for schools and businesses, but this is the first time the Cuban government has allowed a free, public Wi-Fi hub, AP reports.
It's slow, but significant
The cultural center is run by the Cuban visual artist Kcho, who has ties to the state government. Last month, Fidel Castro appeared at the public opening of the cultural center, AP reports. The center's free Wi-Fi comes from Kcho's personal, government-authorized internet connection, which runs at a speed of 2 Mbps. Although that may sound pretty slow to internet users in other parts of the world — globally, average internet speeds are around 3.9 Mbps — it's a huge boon for Cuba, where much of the population still has no internet access at all.
Last month, the state-run telecom provider ETECSA announced plans to begin offering Wi-Fi service in the country's second largest city, Santiago de Cuba. But pay-to-play Wi-Fi, which reportedly runs for around $4.50 per hour, can be exorbitantly costly for Cuban citizens making just $20 a month. The AP estimates Kcho is likely paying around $900 a month for his connection.
Kcho told the AP that because dozens of users are connecting to the center's Wi-Fi at any given time, the signal strength is often weak. But in a place where citizens typically need government approval to install a router, a diluted Wi-Fi connection is better than none at all.
"It is expensive, but the benefit is tremendous," Kcho told the AP. "I have something that is great and powerful. I can share it, and I am doing so."