Havana’s Unofficial Wi-Fi Zones
January 8, 2015
HAVANA TIMES — If a Cuban bureaucrat was given the task of collecting
live snails, they would probably manage to escape before he was finished
drawing up the resolutions and communiqués that regulate such an
activity. This helps explain why citizens have much greater foresight
than the bureaucracy does.
In 1993, Fidel Castro announced that the US dollar was being legalized
and Cubans would have access to stores for diplomats. Without waiting
for parliament to change the country’s laws, people went out to buy
things, overpowering the custodians that sought to prevent their access
to the shops.
A large number of self-employed people were already practicing their
trades before the government authorized them to do so. The reforms
merely legalized the status of hundreds of thousands of metal workers,
carpenters, barbers, mechanics and food vendors.
Now, Cuba’s phone company, ETECSA, is announcing that WiFi zones will be
created in Cuba this year. It seems to be unaware that these already
exist and have been used illegally by thousands of people, mostly the
young, for a fairly long time.
In Havana, it is easy to spot Internet navigators, who tend to crowd
around any office, hotel or institution with a Wi-Fi network. They take
out their computers, mobile phones or tablets and cruise the web,
comfortably seated on the sidewalk or while having a drink at a nearby
One of them even created a kind of homemade antenna to get better
reception and sets it up every day in front of the hotel that provides
him with an Internet connection. No one hides when trying to get a
signal, as the use of Wi-Fi seems to be tolerated by the authorities.
They would not be able to control the situation, at any rate, because
Cuban hackers use a program to reveal the network password and pass it
on to others. ETECSA’s high prices and limitations have united people in
a common front against the company.
This kind of solidarity is also seen among people who work at
institutions with Wi-Fi networks, who pass on the password to their
friends. These pass it on to others and the number of “piggy-back”
navigators grows exponentially, uncurbed by changes to the password.
The battle is one the authorities will not easily win. When it comes to
the Internet, the entire population is against them, including the
computer programmers tasked with implementing security measures to
prevent access to networks by unauthorized persons.
The population’s anger seems justified: for a very long time, people
were told there was no Internet because of the US blockade. Later, when
a submarine fiber-optic cable connected Cuba to Venezuela, ETECSA
announced the country lacked the needed infrastructure.
The government opened up a number of cyber-cafés across the country and
set a nonsensical rate, US $ 4.50 per hour. This is the equivalent of a
week’s salary when one is employed by the State, the same State that
owns the phone company.
The company insists these prices are high because they need the capital
to improve the country’s networks, but they don’t care to explain how it
is that other phone companies around the world manage to charge one
fourth of what they charge in Cuba for these services.
Perhaps we will soon be finding out how AT&T or AOL do it, because Obama
stressed the US would facilitate investments that will allow for the
improvement of communications among Cubans. ETECSA’s inefficiency could
well become a national security issue.
Luckily, Cuba’s telephone company will not have to spend much or
experience many headaches to set up the Wi-Fi zones. It will suffice to
import some small signs reading “Wi-Fi” and place these wherever there
is a group of Cubans “navigating” in the middle of the street.
Improvised Wi-Fi zones used by people who “steal” the signal from
companies or institutions can be found in many places around Havana.
Cuba’s phone company, ETECSA, charges US $ 4.50 for an hour of Internet
use at cybercafés, but Wi-Fi zones ought to charge less, as they do not
require a locale or State computers.
Source: Havana’s Unofficial Wi-Fi Zones – Havana Times.org –