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Why the Internet is a luxury in Cuba

David Gura and Aparna Alluri Jan 29, 2015
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After 50 years, the United States and Cuba announced in December that they plan to normalize relations. It’s too early to tell what this will mean exactly, but U.S. companies are eager to start doing business with CubaEspecially telecom companies that see opportunities to build infrastructure in one of the least connected countries in the world.

Ted Henken, Chair of Baruch College’s Sociology and Anthropology Departments and co-author of Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape, says expense is a huge factor in preventing Cubans from using the internet. One hour of internet service typically costs $5. That might not seem like much, but average monthly earnings in Cuba are just $20. Cuba also bans certain websites.

But none of this has stopped people from accessing the internet, says Henken. “There’s a saying in Cuba,” he adds. “Everything is prohibited but anything goes.”

The most common way people use the internet is through flash drives loaded with news and apps, which they buy every week to stay up to date. Henken says this method has “penetrated all parts of the island.”

The other options is “mesh networks,” where people hook up a bunch of computers together in various neighborhoods. This allows people in the network to share information and play games

Henken sees a “broad based demand” for open access to the internet among Cubans. He says there is “a rising level of frustration, because Cubans … they are connected to modern ideas but they can’t share them easily with one another or get new ideas easily from outside the country.”

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