Information Technology in Cuba
The average Cuban does not have personal access to the Internet for a variety of reasons, including cost, access restrictions, and inadequate Internet infrastructure. There are more than 18,000 Cuban-based web pages available on the Internet, of which these pages receive over 15 million hits per week. There are four Cuban Internet Service Providers (ISPs) providing various forms of Internet access and several other ISPs that provide restricted access to a national Intranet web. However, only one ISP, CENIAI, provides personal Internet access to Cuban citizens.
Estimates of Cuban computer usage vary widely by source. The Cuban government projects that there is one computer for every 100 Cuban citizens and 40,000 Cubans (excluding students and tourists) have Internet access. However, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) recently estimated that 60,000 Cubans have Internet access (37). Public Internet access is still very limited, as users must prove they are engaged in research or belong to an accredited institution. Internet access is limited to those deemed to be involved with the country's growth and development. Access is voted upon by a government committee comprised of representatives from the Interior, Justice and Armed Forces ministries. The Cuban government is planning to sponsor its YCCs that will provide Internet access to 150 youth clubs and more than 2,000 post offices.
Comparison of Caribbean Usage
Source: NUA Internet Survey of Latin American Online Users (40)
As previously stated, Cuba pays significantly more for monthly personal Internet access than do its Caribbean counterparts. While no published statistics were available for the Dominican Republic or Haiti, the fees listed below give an idea of the cost and its effect on widespread usage throughout Cuba.
Caribbean Monthly Internet Access Fees
Source: IABIN: Report Tallys Latin American ISP Industry (41)
The History of Cuban Internet Usage
Cuban Internet connectivity began in 1991 with a UUCP link between CENIAI and Web/NIRV, an Association for Progressive Communications affiliate in Toronto, Canada. Email traffic was transferred once daily. By 1995, there were four networks with international UUCP links: CENIAI, the Center for Automated Interchange of Information of the Cuban Academy of Sciences; CIGB, the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology; TinoRed, a network for non-governmental organizations; and an X.25-based tourism network. International email traffic was over 60,000 bytes per month, and over 2,600 Cubans were using email. Cuba had many internal LANs, UUCP links over telephone and X.25 connections, IP Intranets, but no major international IP link (42).
Monthly International Email Traffic - 1995
By 1997, the four international UUCP networks were replaced with a 64 kbps undersea cable IP link from CENIAI in Havana to Sprint in the United States. Cuba has four networks with international connectivity: CENIAI, CIGBnet, TinoRed, and Infomed. Networking organizations are controlled by the Ministeries of CITMA and SIME, with oversight by the Interministerial Commission (44).
CENIAI offers email, database access, mail lists, and programming and consulting services. More importantly, CENIAI is the one ISP offering personal Internet access to qualified individuals. Services offered are e-mail only access, ten hours of PPP dial-up, unlimited PPP dial-up, 56/64 kbps leased line IP connection, excluding dedicating line charges, and 56/64 kbps dedicated line charges to the local telephone company (45). CENIAI does not publish any data outlining monthly services charges; however, the authors are awaiting a response from CENIAI headquarters with a specific fee structure.
TinoRed is the official name of the Cuban Youth Computer Club program and operates 150 walk-in computer centers. One hundred centers have TinoRed email accounts and approximately 80 centers have working 2400 bps modems.
CIGBnet has a total of five locations including its headquarters in Havana and in the provinces of Camaguey and Sancti Spiritus. CIGBnet provides email, access to biological, medical, and bibliographic databases, Gopher and Web servers, bioinformatic tools, and education and training on the Internet and related tools. As of January 1997, the CIGBnet system had grown to 210 computers divided in 10 subnetworks. Multiprotocol PC-based routers link the subnetworks to provide access to WindowsNT, UNIX, and Netware servers. TCP/IP and IPX/SPX are the network protocols used on the CIGB campuses (46).
Infomed is the network of the National System of Health Information of the Cuban Ministry of Health. Infomed has over 500 accounts and provides email, file retrieval, and database search. Infomed currently operates a single node in Havana but is building a network of 13 servers in Cuban medical schools through a UNESCO grant (47).
Cuba also maintains four intercity networks: subnets within TinoRed and CIGBnet, bank networks, and a tourism network. The most significant of the Intranet networks is Cubanet an X.25 network serving joint-venture enterprises and some tourism. Formed initially by CENIAI employees and operated by ETECSA's international arm, Cubanet connects through an X.75 backbone to DATAPAC in Canada. However, its connectivity prices are too high for most users. A dialup connection costs $32 per month plus usage charges of $0.31 per minute and $0.34 per kilocharacter (48).
International Assistance in Cuban Infrastructure Development
The United Nations' Sustainable Development Networking Programme (SDNP) has been working to reduce the disparity between high-wealth nations, primarily the United States, and developing countries. According to UN estimates, the United States has a substantial lead in deploying and using e-commerce solutions for B2B and B2C ventures. Europe lags behind 2-3 years while developing countries maintain at least a 5 year lag. The SDNP works with participating nations to launch and support local Internet sites and build national capacities and knowledge resources. In the Caribbean basin, the Dominican Republic and Haiti projects are already received infrastructure upgrades of Hewlett Packard equipment under an HP/SDNP agreement. However, Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago are in the preliminary negotiations phase and have yet to receive any assistance (49).
While Cuba has an international IP link, they have no domestic backbone and barely any leased line access. IP connectivity is rare in the health and governmental sectors and nonexistent in education and commerce. UUCP-based email is used nationwide in the health sector. More than 10% of government ministries have email accounts, and the YCCs are island-wide. Cuba is also hindered by its poor telephone infrastructure and its concentration on X.25. In short, Cuba's intranet networking has expanded more quickly than its Internet networking.