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Cuba Claims New Regulations Expand Internet Access to Homes and Businesses, But Here’s the Downside

The new regulations establish constraints on private network transmission power and cabling that, if enforced, will put Cuba’s cooperatively-owned community networks out of business.

New Cuban regulations regarding private WiFi networks went into effect yesterday, and the New York Times and others proclaimed that “Cuba expands Internet access to private homes and businesses.” Yes, Cubans can legally import and install WiFi routers in their homes, small cafes, B&Bs, etc., but these regulations will make little difference in Internet access.

For a start, very few homes and small businesses in Cuba have links to the Internet. Furthermore, my guess is that most people in homes that are connected to the Internet have already installed registered or unregistered WiFi routers. (Resolution No. 65/2003 dated June 5, 2003, states the procedure for registering a private data network).

If that is the case, what do these new regulations change?

They establish constraints on private network transmission power and cabling that, if enforced, will put Cuba’s cooperatively-owned community networks, the largest of which is SNET in Havana, out of business. Even if they are not enforced today, they will hang like the sword of Damocles over their heads.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the Ministry of Communication has postponed enforcement for 60 days while they negotiate with SNET.

SNET will remain up during 60 days of negotiation (source).

Why would the Cuban government want to eliminate community networks? Do they see them as economic competitors to the government Internet service provider, ETECSA? Is ETECSA embarrassed by the fact that community networks connect so many people at so little cost? Do they fear clandestine, anti-government communication? I really don’t know.

Guifi.net the world’s largest Internet-connected community networkIf Cuba aspires to what the International Telecommunication Union refers to as fourth-generation policy, which they characterize as “Integrated regulation—led by economic and social policy goals,” they should regard the community networks as collaborators, not competitors. They should legitimatize SNET and the others, subsidize and work with them and provide them with Internet connectivity. SNET is the world’s largest community network that is not connected to the Internet. Cuba should follow the lead set by Spain, where they have provided Internet connectivity to Guifi.net, the world’s largest Internet-connected community network. Looking to the future, community networkers could play a valuable role in the installation of Cuba’s 5G wireless infrastructure.

Cuba proudly proclaims (Trumpets) that they are working toward the computerization of society. The outcome of these negotiations with SNET will shed light on the veracity of that claim.

Update Aug 10, 2019:

The Cuban Ministry of Communications has refused to make an exception to their restrictions on wireless power and cabling and says SNET (and presumably other Cuban community networks) must shut down. Over one hundred people have gathered to protest the decision, allegedly without any call to do so.

This goes beyond the loss of a large community network—it signifies Cuban government intransigence and belies the claim that they seek “computerization” of the society and a modern Internet.

I asked earlier, why they might want to eliminate rather than collaborate with community networks and suggested three possibilities:

  1. They see community networks as economic competitors to ETECSA, the state-monopoly ISP.
  2. They are embarrassed by the community networks’ ability to connect so many people at so little cost.
  3. They fear anti-government communication.

Since they control the Internet and have seen the example of countries like China which use a ubiquitous Internet as a tool of control, I lean toward answers 1 and 2.

Update Aug 11, 2019:

Ernesto De Armas <@RealErnesto95>, tweeted this positive update on the negotiations with MINCOM:

Hola a todos. Por esta vía transmito las buenas nuevas respecto a SNET, hoy en la tarde el grupo de trabajo SNET-MINCOM llegaron a favorables acuerdos mediante los cuales se determinó que Snet va a pasar todos sus servicios a través de los JCC, los JCC a su vez estarán conectados por fibra óptica entre ellos y los servidores que contienen nuestros servicios se montarán en ETECSA. También se autorizó a que los nodos se conecten a los JCC utilizando equipos de alta potencia que son los necesarios para poder hacer esto, entre estos equipos se incluyen los equipos de Ubikiti, Nanostation, etc de alta potencia, no pondrán trabas para estas conexiones hacia los JCC. También hay otra buena noticia, los servicios de SNET pronto estarán disponibles ¡Para todo el país! También advirtió el grupo de trabajo respetar estos acuerdos y no realizar nada que pueda atentar contra los mismos, nada de manifestarse públicamente (que a mí entender no hace ya ninguna falta, ya hemos logrado lo que queríamos) ni hacer declaraciones ofensivas contra MINCOM. En mi opinión hemos ganado está batalla por la subsistencia de #Snet, ahora debemos cooperar entre todos para hacer de este proyecto algo mejor, incluso, a lo que teníamos anteriormente. Estoy sumamente contento, alegre y agradecido de que nuestras instituciones estatales no hayan hecho oídos sordos a nuestra causa. Hoy comienza una nueva era en la Informatización de la sociedad cubana

TheCubanJedi <@darthdancuba> asked “Podrán abrir algo de sNet a internet??” and Ernesto replied “No. De momento nada de internet a través de Snet como siempre ha sido.”

This is unofficial, but if it is accurate, SNET will be more widely available and faster, but not yet on the Internet.

Update Aug 12, 2019:

Sad to say, the August 10th update was accurate. Ernesto De Armas <@RealErnesto95> has learned that MINCOM has ruled against SNET and the restrictions on transmission power and cabling will be upheld as per this announcement by SNET.

Needless to say, this is disappointing to the users of Cuban community networks and to the general population since it is an indication that ETECSA is determined to remain a monopoly.

A demonstration protesting the decision will be held next Saturday. Here is Ernesto’s English translation:

As we have the conviction that Revolution is to change everything that needs to be changed, on Saturday, August 17th, from 9am in the park located in front of the MINCOM, behind the bus station terminal, we make a call to all persons filiated to Snet from all the provinces of the country.

SNET, a community created more than 15 years ago, is being affected by the resolutions 98 and 99, we fight and demand to have an autonomous SNET that keeps the social project that we have had during all these years and that reaches so many homes and Cuban families.

To everyone who has the feeling for Snet, which has been created by everyone, this is the time to fight against resolutions 98 and 99 that are attacking the correct functioning of our community, created with everyone’s sacrifice and with more than a decade of existence and acceptance by thousands of Cubans.

This is the time to make MINCOM understand that true democracy is conceived and defined by the people and that we must be heard because we are the youth of this country, the new generation and as the future that we are we demand to be considered.

We urge and summon every teenager, young, adult or old person, without any difference who feels identified with our cause, either has enjoyed or not with our network and our services to support us from every place and every spot because WE ALL MATTER, WE ARE ALL SNET. On this depends the end of the beginning of a new dream, a new path that we want to follow, so we can accomplish our acknowledgment before the authorities and a happy ending to keep ourselves being what we are. Snet…

By Larry Press, Professor of Information Systems at California State University

He has been on the faculties of the University of Lund, Sweden and the University of Southern California, and worked for IBM and the System Development Corporation. Larry maintains a blog on Internet applications and implications at cis471.blogspot.com and follows Cuban Internet development at laredcubana.blogspot.com.

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