In the United States, about half (50%) of mobile phone owners use their devices as their primary way to access the Internet, but in Cuba, most people can’t even afford to get online using a desktop. Even if they could, much of the web’s content is censored, and the content that isn’t blocked takes ages to load, because it’s so slow there.
Considering all this, it shouldn’t be any surprise that high on the Obama administration’s new list of priorities for Cuban-U.S. relations is to see to it that the nation is more fully connected to the Internet.
However, the digital revolution has already come and gone. With Cuba left behind, getting the island nation online could prove to be easier said than done.
According to estimates from the United Nation’s International Telecommunications Union, only about 25% of Cubans have access to the Internet — a soft, undetermined figure. Many other agencies estimate that the real percentage is far lower. Researchers at Freedom House estimate that in 2011, actual Internet penetration was only 5%, which makes Cuba one of the least connected countries in the entire world.
A large part of the problem is Cuba’s economy. According to Reporters Without Borders — a group which went so far as to label Cuba an “enemy of the Internet” — estimates that it costs about $5 or $7 for just a half-hour of time online. Steep as that figure is, it’s made worse considering the fact that the average monthly salary in Cuba is only about $20, which makes Internet access an exorbitantly expensive luxury few can afford.
Actually being able to afford access is only half the problem facing an Internet-connected Cuba. The other part is the rigid control and rampant censorship of the Cuban government. Though it appeared to have eased up on its control, Havana cracked back down in 2012, shutting a number of blogs and websites down, restricting email access, and jailing a number of cyber activists and critics.
Though it seems that the U.S. has its work cut out for it, the Obama administration seems to determined to get Cuba online.
“I believe in the free flow of information,” said President Barack Obama when he unveiled his new policy on Cuba. “Unfortunately, our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe.”
The question that now remains is how.