03/09/08 - Cuba-L Analysis (Albuquerque) - Cuba and Information
Technology - 2001[Part 1]
by Nelson P Valdes
[Cuba-L Direct is providing our readers with this unpublished report that
was written seven years ago. The report was prepared for the Ford Foundation
by the Cuba Research & Analysis Group. Despite the 2001 date the basic
concepts and history are accurate and useful. Hopefully, the series will
help frame any discussion on the subject today].
This report provides a current, brief overview of the availability and use
of email and the Internet in Cuba today. It offers the most up-to-date
information on available resources and access. It raises some of the current
political arguments used to explain the limitations of resources, and
provides alternative explanations placing the island within the context of
the problems faced by developing countries. The report also outlines the
Cuban model of digital inclusion, which seeks to integrate the country into
the global Information and Computer Technology (ICT) revolution. This report
does not attempt to present a historical account of the origins and
development of email and Internet services in Cuba as such studies have been
DIGITAL DIVIDE AND THE HOUSEHOLD; INDICATOR BIAS
When addressing Internet access, be it in Cuba or elsewhere, we should be
sensitive to the problem of selecting an appropriate indicator so as to
avoid bias. Typically, studies about access to Internet connectivity have
concentrated on measuring households and individual access. The best example
of that approach has been Falling Through the Net: Toward Digital Inclusion,
a series of reports written by the U.S. Department of Commerce's National
Telecommunications and Information Administration.
The work shows a significant "digital divide" in the United States
determined by income, ethnicity, race, age and place of residence. Although
the work makes an important contribution to a discussion of the problem of
inclusion, it suffers from a fundamental bias: it is intellectually framed
by an individualistic and market oriented perspective characteristic of a
highly developed post-industrial society. When one uses the household as the
centerpiece of a measure of Internet connectivity, then one depends on
individual household income and leaves out other possible avenues of
Internet inclusion. One study has shown that in the major industrial
countries, "Home continues to be the primary place for accessing the web
(70%), although a good number of people access from work (57%), and about a
third access from other locations such as schools, libraries, hotels, remote
business centers, etc."
The "household indicator bias" might be useful as a measure in
postindustrial societies but it is neither useful nor persuasive as an
objective indicator in the less developed world. If Internet and email
access are measured primarily by counting households with a computer, a
modem, a telephone and an Internet account, significant sectors of the world
population will be overlooked because they are not able to afford such
things. In fact, in 1999, using those indicators only 2.4% of the population
of the world had Internet access.
Even in the United States it has been recognized that the individual
household approach might not be the wisest way of closing the digital
divide. That is why in 1996 the U.S. Congress adopted the Telecommunication
Law that had a special provision that intended to reduce costs for Internet
access in schools and libraries. In other words, social/community
institutions were selected to address the bias of stressing the individual
household. Moreover, the federal and state governments in the United States
have noted the need to create and/or expand Community Technology Centers in
low-income urban and rural neighborhoods. Access and inclusion, in other
words, would not occur by means of individualized, privatized,
household-bound solutions within populations that could not afford
The number of users is a basic and seemingly comprehensible measure of
Internet access. But there is no standard definition of what is a user of
email or of the Internet. Moreover, comparisons of user data are misleading
because there is no standard definition of frequency (e.g., daily, weekly,
monthly) or services used (e.g., e-mail, World Wide Web). How frequent does
one have to use email to be defined as a user?. Statistical information
including that cited within this report should be considered mere
approximations of patterns of use and connectivity.
DIGITAL DIVIDE AND SOCIAL INEQUALITY IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD
Whether measured individually or socially, at the end of the 1990s the share
of Internet users of the richest 20% of the world's population was 93.3%
while the remaining 80% shared 6.7% of Internet access. Despite the
exponential growth in Internet connectivity, the stratified pattern has not
changed. According to the International Labor Organization study World
Employment Report 2001: Life at Work in the Information Society, the gap
between the digital haves and have-nots has increased over the years.
Computer usage and Internet access grows at an extraordinary pace in some
parts of the world but "it remains the case that little more than 5 per cent
of the world's population are Internet users - and 88 per cent of these are
in the industrialized countries." The U.S. and Canada account for 57 per
cent of the world's Internet users, Africa and the Middle East together
account for only 1 per cent.
Almost 90% of the world population does not have a phone line, and even less
people owned a computer. E-mail or the Internet is not a viable possibility,
at least not on an individual basis. A United Nations expert commission
has noted that the disparity is so great that "there are more hosts in New
York than in continental Africa; more hosts in Finland than in Latin America
and the Caribbean." Yet, even in western Europe there is a major digital
divide. Pippa Norris discloses that, "at present the information society has
not spread evenly throughout postindustrial economies. Instead, there are
major differences between leaders and laggards even within the European
Union. Far from equalizing the playing field between European societies, the
adoption of new technology has so far exacerbated a north-south divide that
already existed in traditional patterns of mass media use."
What is true for western Europe and most of the developing world is also the
case in Latin America. In fact, if we were to use the household index of
Internet access, then only 2.1% of all Latin American households have
connectivity. In the year 2000 there were 10.5 million Internet users in
Latin America, with 72% residing in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Chile
(Brazil accounted for 50% of all users). National Internet access merely
reproduces the stratified nature of their respective societies. Internet is
available, as a rule, to only those who can afford to have it. Internet
usage throughout Latin America is determined by the cost and availability of
telecommunications and by people's income. Abraham Lowenthal in an essay
looking at Latin America at the end of the century concluded that, "Income
distribution, long more unequal in Latin America than in any other region,
has become even more skewed. The richest 10 percent of Latin America's
population receive 40 percent of the region's income, while the poorest 30
percent receive just 7.5 percent." Hence, it is highly doubtful that 200
million Latin Americans will have the financial ability to purchase
It is important to consider the issue of income and pricing when attempting
to project the United States experience onto the developing world.
North-American households can buy an unlimited local call package for as
little as $3 to $7 a month and get access to the Internet via a dial-up
service for about $15 to $20 per month. In early 2001 U.S. Internet rates
were down to U.S.$4.95 a month plus $20 for typical phone time, while in
Latin America the regional average cost was twice that amount.
In the case of high use of different telecom services by an individual
consumer, business or institution, the gap between North and South
dramatically increases. In 1999 in the U.S. a package of unlimited Internet
access could produce a monthly bill of as little as $20-45. But a similar
package became $100 in Brazil, $165 in Mexico, $171 in Argentina and $302 in
Bolivia. Poorer nations are more likely to have higher overall costs of
connectivity, along with less individual households that can afford long
term Internet connectivity.
The same occurs with computers. It has been reported, "according to global
market researchers IDC, personal computers have only penetrated 5% of Latin
America's population, including home, business, education and government
settings." Of these, only about 30% have Internet capability.
The social and economic inequalities found throughout Latin America further
contribute to the digital divide. The exclusion from access to email and the
Internet reflects and also reinforces those very profound social differences
found in the region. At present (2001) 13 million persons have Internet
connectivity in Latin America, about 3% of the adult population; most of the
accounts are individual in nature.
The United Nations Development Program has noted that in the developing
countries "market forces alone will not rectify the imbalance" in the
digital divide. The Cuban case should be analyzed within this context,
especially since Cuba offers a very different approach from the rest of
Latin America when addressing questions of social equity and inclusion.
Numerous scholarly studies have noted that since 1959 the Cuban government
has stressed policies seeking to generate as much equity as possible.
Access and inclusion have been driving forces on matters related to
education, healthcare and other social services. The question then is
whether Cuba has practiced a policy of inclusion in the areas of
telecommunications and information technology. Telecommunications inclusion,
however, should be understood not in terms of universal access but rather as
CUBA AND ITS TECHNICAL CONNECTION WITH THE WWW
In order to discuss access to email or the Internet in Cuba, it is necessary
to have a clear idea of the external limitations imposed by the U.S. on
Cuban international telecommunications up until 1959 were dependent on
cables across the Florida Straits. The Cuban telephone system was
essentially an appendage of U.S.-based telephone service. Cuban
telecommunications capacity was dependent on U.S. technology and technical
support. This changed rather abruptly with the economic embargo imposed by
the U.S. against Cuba. Since 1962 Cuba has been prohibited from purchasing
telecommunications or computing equipment from any U.S company or from any
U.S. subsidiary abroad. From 1962 to 1991 such technologies had to be
obtained from the Soviet bloc. U.S. scientists and professionals in the
computer field were and continue to be seldom issued licenses by the U.S.
Treasury Department to travel to Cuba. When e-mail was first developed
by the United States military Cuba had no access to such services, nor to
the technical know how or the equipment.
Until May 1994 access to U.S. Internet sites was blocked under a National
Science Foundation (NSF) "route-filtering" policy through which the United
States government did not allow NSFNet or any other Internet network to
provide traffic (back and forth) from Cuba. Consequently, Cuba could not
engage in Internet activity. In July 1994 the U.S. Treasury Department
decided that the transfer of data and information to Cuba by any U.S.
carrier could take place, as long as it did not involve any transfer of
money from the U.S. to Cuba. The intent was to put into effect the 1992
Torricelli Act that defined communications with Cuba as a way to undermine
the revolutionary regime. By October 1994 the U.S. Federal
Communications Commission approved agreements between the Cuban telephone
enterprise and U.S. telephone companies to offer direct phone service
between the two countries, and such direct service commenced in November of
that year. However, this agreement did not include data transfer. At the
time there was no direct phone service between the two countries. On January
12, 1995 InterNIC (a cooperative U.S. based project that handles the
registration of networks joining the Internet) granted a Cuban institution
(CENIAI) a Class B Internet address, allowing Cuba to directly join the
It should be noted, however, that although the United States government
lifted the main restriction on Cuban connectivity, it is not up to Cuba to
simply connect to the Internet at whatever speed it may wish to do so, or
with as many channels and independent providers as it may choose. To date,
any time Cuba attempts to add a new channel to the Internet, the U.S.
counterpart has to obtain the approriate license from the U.S. Treasury
Department. Likewise, if a U.S. company wants to open a new channel to Cuba
or decides to increase the speed of the connection, a license must first be
The Cuban national director of Internet norms and regulations has remarked
that the present connection with Internet does not offer the appropriate
bandwidth to meet the country's demand. One author has noted "the U.S.
trade embargo forces Cuba to use an expensive, sluggish satellite connection
and bandwidth." There is neither a T1, T3 or DSL link ups between Cuba
and the outside world. Larry Press has noted that as of the spring of
1999, Cuba's total international bandwidth was only 832 kb/s, "less than a
home with high-speed DSL service or cable modem and less than 1/50th of the
bandwidth from my campus of the California State University to the
The problem could be greatly alleviated if a fiber optic cable between Cuba
and the state of Florida was used, but the U.S. has not allowed such. In
1999 one U.S. company which has laid cables connecting several Caribbean
islands proposed to lay an underwater fiber optic cable capable of handling
530,000 simultaneous connections at 40 Gbps. But the process of
obtaining a U.S. government license was considered so cumbersome and
expensive that the company gave up. In spite of previous Treasury approval
in principle of data traffic, observers doubted that the U.S. would approve
a link intended exclusively for such use. Cuba on the other hand has
expressed its willingness to connect to such a cable, and in November 15,
1999 signed the necessary protocol documents with a commercial consortia to
permit the link to the Arcos 1 fiber optic submarine network. 
INTERNET PROVIDFERS AND HOSTS
Cuba's 1996 connection to the Internet via CENIAI established a link at
64kb/s through U.S. Sprint (Global One). Two years later its speed
increased to 256K. Italy also began to provide two international channels at
256K (via Sea Bone). In 1999 Canada's Teleglobe initiated a 512K asymmetric
service. As of 2001 there are 5 national Internet service providers in
the island, linking 312 Internet sites linked to those major providers.
In May 2001 there were 548 registered *.cu domains in Cuba of which: 139 are
commercial (.com), 8 are organizational (*.org), 21 are educational (*.edu),
20 are informational (*.inf), 10 are governmental (*.gov), and 3 are
*.net. There are 44 other domains with licenses pending. Cuba has at
least 151 licensed intranets for data retrieval. Overall, the number of
Internet hosts in January 2001 numbered 702, four months later they reached
1100. The World Bank estimated that in 1999 the there were 0.06 Internet
hosts for every 10,000 persons in Cuba.
There are numerous unofficial estimates of the number of Internet users in
Cuba today. The United States government and Cuban exile sources offer the
low figure of 2000 Internet accounts. A recent journalistic report
declared that, "On this island of 11 million, the Ministry of Communications
and Information reported about 3,600 permanent Internet accounts through
four government-operated providers."  However, it was not reported
whether the number of accounts and the number of users coincided.
The highly respected Nua Internet Surveys estimated that the number of
online users in Cuba in April 2000 reached 60,000 or 0.54% of the total
population. That figure, however, included both Internet and email
users. A more realistic estimate would be to state that there are about
25,000 Internet accounts but, as a rule, two or more persons use each of
those accounts. Each account is, really, a shared account - a strategy
found throughout the developing world. The majority of such accounts are
According to Melchor Gil Morel, Vice Minister of Informatics and
Communications, the number of e-mail accounts (not to be confused with the
real number of users) is about 60,000. Officially, it has been noted
that today the country's e-mail communications program meets 42 percent of
the total social demand, compared with 17 percent only a few years ago.
COMPUTER AND TELEPHONE INFRASTRUCTURE: THE UPPER LIMITS OF INTERNET ACCESS
PCs in Cuba
A report by the International Telecommunication Union notes,
"Telephone lines and personal computers are key components for Internet
access. Both have significant impact on the take-up of Internet in a
country. Dial-up Internet access requires a telephone line and a personal
computer (with a modem). These hardware components thus constitute an upper
limit for Internet access. For example, if 25 percent of households have
personal computers with modems, then Internet access from households cannot
exceed 25 percent. Internet policies will not be successful if they do not
address these fundamental access requirements."
PCs are not a common household resource in the developing world. In the U.S.
there is one PC for every three persons but in Brazil the ratio becomes
1:143. In 1991, at the time of the demise of the USSR, Cuba had just 15,000
PCs for the entire country. As of September 2000 there were 1.8
computers per 100 inhabitants in Cuba. The number of computers has
increased, since 1995, on a yearly average by 25,000. Each of these
computers costs approximately $1,300, a price tag that very few households
could afford. Over 90% of all new PCs are purchased by the state for social
Currently within the Cuban educational system there are 39,000 computers
distributed among 8,868 elementary schools and 1,887 secondary schools.
In the school year 2000-2001 twenty thousand new computers were added to the
secondary school system. The proportion of computers to university
students is 1:12.
 U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information
Administration, Falling Through the Net: Toward Digital Inclusion, On the
Telecommunications and Information Technology Gap in America. October 16,
2000, Washington, DC.
 Mohsen Tawfik, "Is The World Wide Web Really Worldwide?," UNESCO Points
of View, Paris, 1999.
 United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report Office, New
Technologies and the Global Race for Knowledge, Geneva, 1999. Figure 2.4,
Chapter 2. http://www.undp.org/hdro/Chapter2.pdf
 Counting the Net: Internet Access Indicators. Prepared by Michael
Minges. Presented at INET 2000, The Internet Global Summit, Yokohama, Japan,
18-21 July 2000. http://www.itu.int/ti/papers/inet2000/isoc2000.pdf
 Eszter. Hargittai E., "Holes in the Net: The Internet and International
Stratification", INET'98: The Internet Summit, 21-24th July 1998, Geneva,
 International Labour Organization, World Employment Report 2001 Decent
Work and Information and Communications Technologies, Washington, DC:
Brookings Press, 2001.
 United Nations, Report of the meeting of the high-level panel of experts
on information and communication technology (New York, 17-20 April 2000,
A/55/75 - E/2000/55.
 Pippa Norris, "The Internet in Europe: A New North-South Divide?,"
Harvard International Journal of Press Politics, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2000, p. 6.
 Adam Rombel, "The Global Digital Divide," Global Finance (New York),
 Abraham F. Lowenthal, "Latin America at the Century's End," Journal of
Democracy, Vol. 11, No. 2, 2000, p. 42.
 Margalit Edelman and Peter Mountford, A Telecom Scorecard 1999-2000:
Consumer costs for Basic Services in the Americas, Alexis de Tocqueville
Institution, 2000; Inter American Development Bank, Information Technology
for Development Division, Electronic Commerce and Development Implications
for UDB Action, Antonio Ca'Zorzi, November 2000, Washington, DC; "Nerd
Nation," Latin Trade, New York, Mar 2001
 Graham Makohoniuk, "Brave new region," Latinfinance (Coral Gables),
February 2001, pp. 24-25.
 Alberto Chong and Alejandro Micco, On Information Technology and
Competitiveness, in Latin America, Prepared for the seminar "Towards
Competitiveness: The Institutional Path" Annual Meetings of the Board of
Governors, Inter-American Development Bank and Inter-American Investment
Corporation, Santiago, Chile, March 16, 2001.
 "El Crecimiento de Internet en Latinoamérica Irá en Aumento," EFE
(Madrid), October 10, 2000; "América Latina estará a la cabeza de los nuevos
usuarios de Internet," El Nuevo Herald (Miami), February 20, 2001.
 United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report Office,
New Technologies and the Global Race for Knowledge, Geneva, 1999.
 Centro de Investigaciones de la Economía Mundial, Investigación sobre
el desarrollo humano y equidad en Cuba - 1999, La Habana: Caguayo, S.A. This
study was funded by the United Nations Development Program.
 Ann C. Seror and Juan Miguel Fach Arteaga, "Telecommunications
Technology Transfer and the Development of Institutional Infrastructure: The
Case of Cuba," Telecommunications Policy, vol. 24 (2000), pp. 203-21.
 U.S. foreign policy on Cuba is based on "two tracks." Track 1 involves
an overall embargo on trade or any commercial transaction. Track 2 allows
for contact and exchanges (including "people to people" and academic
exchanges). But Track 2 does not include exchanges among professionals in
the hard sciences. For a discussion of the policy: Fidel Castro, Speech on
July 26, 1995 at Guantánamo.
 Nelson P Valdés and Mario A. Rivera, "The Political Economy of the
Internet in Cuba," Cuba in Transition, Vol. 9, 1999, pp. 145-146.
 Ibid. Communication from Jesús Martínez Alfonso, CENIAI Director to
Nelson P Valdés, February 21, 1995.
 "Páginas cubanas en Internet registran casi 50 millones de accesos,"
Prensa Latina (Havana), February 2, 2001; "Impedimentos técnicos condicionan
a Cuba su acceso a Internet," EFE (Madrid), March 3, 2001.
 Julia Scheeres "Cuba not so libre with the net," Wired News, February
 7. CIA World Factbook 2000
 Larry Press, "The State of the Internet: Growth and Gaps," paper
presented at the INET 2000 Conference, 18-21 July 2000, Yokohama, Japan. See
also: Martinez, Jesus "The Net in Cuba," Matrix News, Vol. 1, No. 1, January
 "Questioning the Dotcom Revolution," Christian Science Monitor,
February 12, 2001,
 "Quest Net Corp. to Begin Construction on 40 Gbps Cuban Undersea Cable
Network, " Telecom News Archive, March 12, 1999.
 "Project to Build Fiber Optic Link to Cuba is Abandoned," CubaNews,
March 2000, p. 6.
 Remarks by Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz at the Round Table discussion,
Televisión Cubana studios, June 19th, 2001.
 CENIAI stands for Centro de Intercambio Automatizado de Información,
which belongs to the Instituto de Documentación e Información Tecnológica
(IDICT) of the Information Agency for Development which is part of the
Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment. "Cuba asegura que aumentará
servicio de Internet a población," AP, March 2, 2001.
 Matrix News, Vol. 9, No. 1, January 1999.
 "Por el Día de la Prensa Cubana: Sitio web de los periodistas cubanos
en Internet," Granma (Havana) 12/03/01.
 Centro Cubano de Información de Red, Lista completa de dominios
inscritos, May 25, 2001. http://www.nic.cu/consult.html
 Centro Cubano de Información de Red, Lista de solicitudes en trámite,
Havana, Cuba, May 25, 2001.
 Network Wizards - Internet Software Consortium, Distribution by
Top-Level Domain Name by Name, January 2001.
http://www.isc.org/ds/WWW-200101/dist-byname.html. The May 2001 has been
provided to the author by a Cuban news agency.
 World Bank, World Development Indicators 2000, New York, 2001. Table
 "Cuba tiende la cortina de hierro por la Internet," Nuevo Herald
(Miami), October 9, 2000.
 Vanessa Bauzá, "Cubans Learn How to Use Computers," Sun-Sentinel, March
[39 Communication from ETECSA to Centro de Información de Prensa, Havana,
August 7, 2000.
 Miguel de la Guardia, "Internet: un medio idóneo para propagar la
verdad," Radio Habana Cuba, March 12, 2001;
 "Expanding Internet Service to meet Cuba's Most Pressing Needs," Radio
Havana Cuba, March 12, 2001.
 Michael Minges, Counting the Net: Internet Access Indicators, Geneva:
International Telecommunication Union, 2000
 Speech by Cuban President Fidel Castro at the opening of the Youth Club
Computer and Electronics Center in Havana, Cubavisión Television (Havana),
March 7, 1991.
 Report by Cuba's Deputy Minister for Telecommunications and
Electronics, Melchor Gil, Press Conference, Havana, March 15, 2001.
 "Dispondrán de 14 000 computadoras centros educacionales cubanos de
enseñanza media," Granma (Havana) February 28, 2001.
 Alberto Núñez Betancourt,"Fidel reinaugura Joven Club Central de
Computación," Granma Internacional (Havana) April 5, 2001.
 Inter American Commission on Human Rights, Annual Report 2000,
Washington, DC, Section 65.
[To be continued]
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