In Old Havana’s last remaining internet cafe, an hour online costs about
almost a quarter of an average monthly salary. But armed with some
piecemeal networking equipment and rebellious sensibilities, some Cuban
youths have taken connectivity into their own hands.
Beginning in 2001, a small community of tech-savvy Cubans have been
building a sprawling mesh network that stretches across Havana. This
crowdsourced connectivity takes advantage of hidden Wi-Fi antennas and
broadband cables stretched across rooftops to network over 9,000
computers across different neighborhoods in Cuba’s capital. The
resultant Snet, or streetnet, enables people to exchange news updates,
share files, and even play online games like World of Warcraft. But
there are rules.
“We aren’t anonymous because the country has to know that this type of
network exists. They have to protect the country and they know that
9,000 users can be put to any purpose,” Rafael Antonio Broche Moreno,
the 22-year-old electrical engineer pictured above who helped build
Snet, told the Associated Press recently. “We don’t mess with anybody.
All we want to do is play games, share healthy ideas. We don’t try to
influence the government or what’s happening in Cuba … We do the right
thing and they let us keep at it.”
The young engineer explained that Snet has a strict zero porn policy.
Discussing politics or linking to the outside internet from Snet will
also lead to punishment in the form of being blocked from accessing the
network. Meanwhile, the very architecture of Snet is entirely illegal—in
part due to the unsanctioned use of Wi-Fi equipment—so keeping users in
check is integral to keeping them online.
The recent developments in the relationship between the United States
and Cuba is giving the Snet youth hope for a better connected future.
The sheer lack of Wi-Fi equipment, much of which comes from the United
States, limits how much the Snet architects can build. And while the
mesh network is limited to a few thousand users, the alternative is much
more analog. It comes in the form USB drives full of news articles, TV
shows, and movies that are passed from one person to the next. It’s a
very pure kind of peer-to-peer networking if you think about it. “It’s a
solid underground,” a young Cuban blogger told The New York Times a few
years ago. “The government cannot control the information.”
Well, at this point, it seems clear that the Cuban government sort of
can. With trade embargoes still denying people of proper equipment and
bans forbidding them from using what they have, the Cuban government is
doing a pretty good job of keeping most of its citizens quiet. But the
thousands of renegades who won’t be silenced shine like a beacon of
hope. It’s a new era for Cuba, and it’s one that people like Snet users
are eager to shape. They’ve been splendidly impatient so far. Imagine
what will happen when the bans are lifted. [AP, NYT]
Source: Cuba’s Illegal Underground Internet Is Thriving –