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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[Cuba-L Direct is providing our readers with this unpublished report that 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 
done already.


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.[1]

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."[2]

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.[3]

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?[4]. Statistical information 
including that cited within this report should be considered mere 
approximations of patterns of use and connectivity.


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.[5] 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.[6] 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."[7] 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."[8]

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.[9] 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."[10] 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.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13] 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.[14]

The United Nations Development Program has noted that in the developing 
countries "market forces alone will not rectify the imbalance" in the 
digital divide.[15] 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.[16] 
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 
universal service.[17]


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 connectivity.

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.[18] 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.[19] 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.[21] One author has noted "the U.S. 
trade embargo forces Cuba to use an expensive, sluggish satellite connection 
and bandwidth."[22] There is neither a T1, T3 or DSL link ups between Cuba 
and the outside world.[23] 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.[25] 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.[26] 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.[27] 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. [28]


Cuba's 1996 connection to the Internet via CENIAI established a link at 
64kb/s through U.S. Sprint (Global One).[29] 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.[30] As of 2001 there are 5 national Internet service providers in 
the island, linking 312 Internet sites linked to those major providers.[31] 
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.[32] There are 44 other domains with licenses pending.[33] 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.[34] The World Bank estimated that in 1999 the there were 0.06 Internet 
hosts for every 10,000 persons in Cuba.[35]

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.[36] 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." [37] 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.[38] 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.[39] 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.[40] 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.[41]


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."[42]

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.[43] 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.[45] 
In the school year 2000-2001 twenty thousand new computers were added to the 
secondary school system.[46] The proportion of computers to university 
students is 1:12.[47]


[1] 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. 
[2] Mohsen Tawfik, "Is The World Wide Web Really Worldwide?," UNESCO Points 
of View, Paris, 1999. 
[3] 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
[4] 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
[5] Eszter. Hargittai E., "Holes in the Net: The Internet and International 
Stratification", INET'98: The Internet Summit, 21-24th July 1998, Geneva, 
[6] International Labour Organization, World Employment Report 2001 Decent 
Work and Information and Communications Technologies, Washington, DC: 
Brookings Press, 2001. 
[7] 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.
[8] Pippa Norris, "The Internet in Europe: A New North-South Divide?," 
Harvard International Journal of Press Politics, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2000, p. 6.
[9] Adam Rombel, "The Global Digital Divide," Global Finance (New York), 
December 2000.
[10] Abraham F. Lowenthal, "Latin America at the Century's End," Journal of 
Democracy, Vol. 11, No. 2, 2000, p. 42.
[11] 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
[12] Graham Makohoniuk, "Brave new region," Latinfinance (Coral Gables), 
February 2001, pp. 24-25.
[13] 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.
[14] "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.
[15] United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report Office, 
New Technologies and the Global Race for Knowledge, Geneva, 1999.
[16] 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.
[17] 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.
[18] 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.
[19] Nelson P Valdés and Mario A. Rivera, "The Political Economy of the 
Internet in Cuba," Cuba in Transition, Vol. 9, 1999, pp. 145-146.
[20] Ibid. Communication from Jesús Martínez Alfonso, CENIAI Director to 
Nelson P Valdés, February 21, 1995.
[21] "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.
[22] Julia Scheeres "Cuba not so libre with the net," Wired News, February 
23, 2001.
[23] 7. CIA World Factbook 2000 
[24] 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 
[25] "Questioning the Dotcom Revolution," Christian Science Monitor, 
February 12, 2001,
[26] "Quest Net Corp. to Begin Construction on 40 Gbps Cuban Undersea Cable 
Network, " Telecom News Archive, March 12, 1999.
[27] "Project to Build Fiber Optic Link to Cuba is Abandoned," CubaNews, 
March 2000, p. 6.
[28] Remarks by Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz at the Round Table discussion, 
Televisión Cubana studios, June 19th, 2001.
[29] 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.
[30] Matrix News, Vol. 9, No. 1, January 1999.
[31] "Por el Día de la Prensa Cubana: Sitio web de los periodistas cubanos 
en Internet," Granma (Havana) 12/03/01.
[32] Centro Cubano de Información de Red, Lista completa de dominios 
inscritos, May 25, 2001. http://www.nic.cu/consult.html
[33] Centro Cubano de Información de Red, Lista de solicitudes en trámite, 
Havana, Cuba, May 25, 2001.
[34] 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.
[35] World Bank, World Development Indicators 2000, New York, 2001. Table 
5.11. http://www.worldbank.org/data/wdi2000/pdfs/tab5_11.pdf
[36] "Cuba tiende la cortina de hierro por la Internet," Nuevo Herald 
(Miami), October 9, 2000.
[37] Vanessa Bauzá, "Cubans Learn How to Use Computers," Sun-Sentinel, March 
1, 2001.
[38] http://www.nua.ie/surveys/how_many_online/s_america.html
[39 Communication from ETECSA to Centro de Información de Prensa, Havana, 
August 7, 2000.
[40] Miguel de la Guardia, "Internet: un medio idóneo para propagar la 
verdad," Radio Habana Cuba, March 12, 2001;
[41] "Expanding Internet Service to meet Cuba's Most Pressing Needs," Radio 
Havana Cuba, March 12, 2001.
[42] Michael Minges, Counting the Net: Internet Access Indicators, Geneva: 
International Telecommunication Union, 2000
[43] 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.
[44] Report by Cuba's Deputy Minister for Telecommunications and 
Electronics, Melchor Gil, Press Conference, Havana, March 15, 2001.
[45] "Dispondrán de 14 000 computadoras centros educacionales cubanos de 
enseñanza media," Granma (Havana) February 28, 2001.
[46] Alberto Núñez Betancourt,"Fidel reinaugura Joven Club Central de 
Computación," Granma Internacional (Havana) April 5, 2001.
[47] Inter American Commission on Human Rights, Annual Report 2000, 
Washington, DC, Section 65.

[To be continued]


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