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Digital World

Cubans get live internet on smartphones

December 6, 2018

Cubans became eligible to sign up for data plans on their smartphones. It is a long-awaited, and expensive, development on an island that limited mobile access to the Internet for most people.

A Cuban man looking at his smartphone
Image: Getty Images/AFP/Y. Lage

Cuba became one of the last countries in the world to get 3G mobile internet services on Thursday, though most citizens on the communist-run island won't be able to afford it.

People began receiving text messages in the morning from the state telephone monopoly informing them that they could buy internet access packages.

Previously, nearly all Cubans could use their mobiles only to access their state-run email accounts unless they connected to the internet at a limited number of government-sponsored Wi-Fi spots.

Read more: Cuba signs deal with Google for faster internet access

Government officials and foreigners doing business on the island could use their phones anywhere to access the 3G network in recent years, though not always reliably.

The new service is being made available gradually through Saturday depending on a user's phone number. This is to avoid the congestion that hit Cuba's mobile network during a series of heavily criticized tests this year.

"It's excellent news," said Gustavo Andujar, who works for the Roman Catholic Church. He was among the initial group of users to receive the announcement from the phone company, ETECSA. "It's having the internet in your pocket!"

Andujar said he will use the service to check email and check some information, but he will continue to use Wi-Fi for family conversations by video and other downloads because the prices for the new service are high for Cubans.

Read more: Cuba gets its first Twitter president 

Expensive data

The phone company is offering monthly packages that range from 600 megabytes for about $7 (€6.15) to four gigabytes for about $30. Those numbers are in line with charges elsewhere but are high for most Cubans, whose salaries average $30 to $50 a month.

Many Cubans have their mobile accounts paid by relatives living abroad.

The internet is mostly uncensored in Cuba. However, the government blocks a small number of sites like the US-funded Radio and Television Marti networks and others that advocate for systematic change on the communist island.

Cuba has one of the world's lowest rates of internet use, but service began expanding in recent years under then-President Raul Castro. Current President Miguel Diaz-Canel has said he wants to expand connectivity for Cubans.

The new mobile service "is a good option for the Cuban people, that each one can connect to their home without having to go to a park or any other place," said Miguel Pellet, a butcher who has been relying on a Wi-Fi hotspot at a park.

Havana Cuba Hotspot
Most Cubans had to access the Internet from hotspots in parksImage: DW/F. Kroker

The government authorized home internet in 2017 and public Wi-Fi connection points have opened in about 830 parks and plazas around

the country.

av/sms (AP, AFP)

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