- Title: Cubans plug in as wireless coverage spreads on island
- Date: 29th December 2016
- Summary: CLOSE-UP OF GOOGLE SEARCH PAGE ON THE COMPUTER SCREEN
- Embargoed: 13th January 2017 20:22
- Keywords: internet wireless coverage old Havana modem
- Location: HAVANA, CUBA
- City: HAVANA, CUBA
- Country: Cuba
- Topics: Science,Internet / World Wide Web
- Reuters ID: LVA0025EXT7IB
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:Downtown Havana resident Margarita Marquez says she received a special Christmas gift this year: web access at home, a rarity in a country with one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the world.
Marquez, a 67-year old retired university professor, was one of the Cubans selected by the government to participate in a pilot project bringing the web into the homes of 2,000 inhabitants of the historic centre of the island's capital.
Most of Cuba's 11.2 million residents only have access to internet at WiFi hotspots, and only then if they can afford the $1.50 hourly tariff that represents nearly 10 percent of the average monthly state salary.
Only 5 percent of the Cuban population is estimated to enjoy internet at home, which requires government permission. Usually this is granted mainly to academics, doctors and intellectuals.
Marquez's 80-year old sister Leonor Franco was equally as excited as the two sat in front of a laptop surfing the web and listening to their favourite singers on YouTube.
"I had never had any experience with the Internet, not even with computation. I've only had the computer for two years. Before that (I had) a typewriter. I'm a typist, but with a typewriter. But a computer, just two years ago. It changed my life because I have some abilities in computation that I've been able to look for and use to do some things," Franco said.
The two sisters live together in a second-storey flat in a colonial-era building in old Havana.
"It's wonderful. It's a dream come true for me. I had some things at the university that I always wanted to have at home and one of them was the Internet. If for nothing else, just to be able to send emails with my friends and family. That's important," Marquez added.
Franco said she wanted to learn how to surf the web properly so she could make the most of the experiment and as long as the government provided internet access for free.
She's worried the sisters won't be able to afford it once they have to start paying for the service in March.
While the cost of internet has dropped in recent years, it is still prohibitive for most Cubans.
Cuba says it has been slow to develop the infrastructure for internet because of high costs in part due to the U.S. trade embargo. Critics say the real reason is fear of losing control.
For now, residents flock to Wi-Fi hotspots that have slowly been popping up since last year in order to connect.
Before the Wi-Fi signals became available last year, broadband Internet access had been limited to largely to desktops at state Internet parlours and pricey hotels.
In September, the government announced it would install Wi-Fi along Havana's picturesque seafront boulevard, the Malecon.
"Now people come at night and sit on the Malecon (sea wall) and you can connect (to the Internet). You don't have to go to hotels anymore. There are many places now where you can go and sit and connect along the Malecon. All the young people come to the Malecon and connect and it's great with everyone. We're happy with this," said Eliecer Samada, as he lingered near the stone wall lining the boulevard, checking social media on his phone.
But the government has said it wants to ensure everyone has access and has installed 237 Wi-Fi hotspots so far.
"For everyone, it should be for everyone. Internet should be in every home," said Jose Gonzalez while taking a break from connecting at one of the new hotspots.
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