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03/09/08 -  Cuba-L Analysis (Albuquerque) - Cuba and Information
Technology - 2001[Part 3]

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[Cuba-L Direct is providing our readers with this unpublished report that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

THE CUBAN TELECENTER EXPERIENCE: JOVEN CLUB NETWORK [90]

The digital divide within nations has led many countries to establish public 
access to Internet services. In some African nations they are called e-touch 
centers, in Peru they are "cabinas públicas," in England they are called 
"easyeverything." The approach is simple: to offer local computer terminals 
and elementary computer services to the public at large, at minimal or no 
cost. The telecenter concept has become a significant part of how agencies 
such as the IBRD, Inter-American Development Bank, IDRC, FAO, UNESCO, ITU 
and USAID have attempted to address the stratification of access in poor 
countries, and disadvantaged regions and small towns within countries.[91] A 
recent press story reported that the Interamerican Development Bank had just 
decided to announce support for "public Internet cabins." The report noted 
that the initiative would be "a rural alternative to the for-profit Internet 
cafés that already populate most Latin American cities. The idea is to bring 
the Internet to some communities that might now share one telephone line. 
The IDB would pay to install computers in village facilities equipped with 
communal phones."[92] The telecenters, as a rule, reach the poor who have 
some education but tend to have no impact on those who do not have any 
education.

The telecenter concept and experience of offering local communities such 
services began in Cuba in 1987 in the form of the Joven Club de Computation 
y Electrónica, or Joven (Youth) Clubs (JC) network.[93] Patrik Hunt, a 
leading researcher of telecenters in Latin America, has written that no 
other network in the region has the "depth of experience," the "network 
reach" and "ongoing research" of the Joven Clubs.[94]

The JC network was created by the national leader of the Union of Young 
Communists. The intention was to begin a campaign of computer literacy that 
was to reach children, adolescents and young adults. The JCs would address 
interests or application problems found in their respective communities, 
including rural areas. Patrick Hunt has written that telecenters have worked 
"to fashion a range of responses to the social development problems they 
face. Some of these responses are common to all while others are unique. The 
experience of Cuba's Joven Club de Computation y Electrónica is instructive 
in this sense and provides an example of telecenter services responding to 
community-based needs."[95] The JC network developed computer programs based 
on the study of user needs in their respective communities, free of charge.

Havana University sociologist Rosanna Más Robaina has shown that the JCs 
became centers that promoted a computer and information culture and served 
also as center of community participation seeking to find local solutions 
through the use of computer science and technology. Among its tasks are to:

.  generalize the learning and improvement of computer and communications 
techniques among young people and propitiate a computer literate culture in 
the general population.

.  assist young professionals and technicians who may wish to learn or 
enhance their own knowledge in the use of these technologies while 
addressing practical production or community needs.

.  discover children and youths who may have unusual computer or technical 
aptitudes and systematically help them in enhancing their skills and 
talents.

.  seek and carry out applications that may benefit the local economy and/or 
society while incorporating the community in the solutions.

.  contribute to the better training of JC instructors in the areas of 
telecommunications and computing.

.  support the establishment of Study Circles in primary and secondary 
schools in order to attract young people to those two areas within their 
respective local communities.
.  develop the use of personal computers in the transmission of data, be 
short or long distances, making sure that children and youths learn the most 
up-to-date techniques.[96]

The JCs began with 32 telecenters throughout the country: 15 in the city of 
Havana (one for each municipality), one in the Isle of Youth and the rest in 
all of the country's 14 provincial capitals. One scholar states "in the 
majority of the places where they were established, it was the first time 
that children and youth had contact with computing equipment. At the time we 
had no idea of the long-term significance that the effort would have in the 
cultural development of the population. Within two years we were taking 
steps to increase the number of installations to 100 throughout the country. 
The new ones were to be built in areas with high concentration of youths and 
a scientific potential."[97] By April 2001 there were 300 telecenters in 
Cuba's 167 municipalities. Seventy municipalities had two JCs each, and in 
each of the 14 provincial capitals there were at least 2 JCs as well. The 
city of Havana, due to the high population concentration, has 48 Joven 
Clubs.[98]

Each JC began with 5 PCs. As the number of Clubs increased over the years, 
the stock of PCs climbed, first six to each JC, then 7 PCs per telecenter. 
As of April 2001, each Joven Club had at least 10 personal computers. Some 
centers may have as many as 20 PCs. As of May 2001 they had 3,181 PCs, 2,941 
of which were Pentium III. Three thousand new computers are being added by 
mid-2002.[99]

In the last 13 years, 264,308 persons have graduated from courses offered by 
the network. By April 2001 the JCs could were offering courses to 103,874 
youths. There are four types of courses offered: introduction to computing, 
electronics, and programming in different languages, utilities and 
applications. There are 1,662 instructors and 1,239 staff members in the 
network. The Joven Club intranet (called TinoRed) offers email, listservers, 
ftp, www, irc, ftp-mail, web hosting, mail hosting, and PPP.[100]

The Joven Club experience has another practical side. Examples of specific 
projects are related by Florentino Bueno Mesa, who writes,

Searching for solutions to solve problems involves the community and the 
Joven Club, creating an incentive to develop research. Each center developed 
a work plan based on local characteristics and needs, which ranged from 
manufacturing processes to computer games. A number of collaborators became 
involved, including local governments and health, education and other 
institutions to develop work plans to address local needs. For example: 1) 
in the municipality of Amancio de las Tunas a program was developed to deal 
with delinquent children; 2) in Contramaestre, Joven Club is developing 
software for the local citrus processing plant; 3) in Manicaragua we are 
working with a hotel to automate information processing; 4) in Viñales 
training is provided for people working in the tourism sector; 5) in 
Cabaiguán programs are being created to assist in the work of cleaning up 
rivers; 6) each Joven Club center works with historians to record local 
history.[101]

The JC network also has four mobile units that reach isolated rural areas to 
teach, entertain and show the use of email. It trains municipal and 
provincial administrators and reaches out to the disabled as well as youth 
with behavioral problems. Since 1990 the Joven Clubs have fostered national 
youth competitions on the use of computers, the use of networks, computer 
assisted design, computer generated video and multimedia, and computer 
assisted music and information applications for teaching History.[102]The 
JCs try to export the Network's organization and experience to workplaces, 
and if accepted, computer youth clubs are set up within the labor force. 
They also have four national teams in Sancti Spíritus, Las Tunas, Santiago 
de Cuba and Matanzas that produce software games.

The main goals of the Joven Clubs for the next three years are the 
following: to have at least 5 of the most modern PCs in each JC, to connect 
those JCs that are not part of the Joven Club to TinoRed, to guarantee 
Internet access to every club, to extend the use of mobile JCs and to 
elaborate an action plan that will work in tandem with the national strategy 
of "informatization of the society."

The modernization of equipment and the further extension of services and 
reach are the future prospects of the Joven Clubs of Cuba. At the Summit of 
the Americas in Quebec in April 2001, the Inter American Development Bank 
stated that a rural telecenter equipped with 10 computers and Internet 
access would cost about $20-25,000.[103] The estimate does not take into 
account the cost of labor associated with running such telecenters. Hence, 
the social inclusion of the population can be an expensive proposition. It 
should be noted that the reports from Latin America point to an marked drop 
in the commitment of governments and philanthropists.[104]

OTHER GOVERNMENT SPONSORED PATHS TO CONNECTIVITY

Health Sector

Another path to extending ICT has been to give priority to health 
institutions in the island's 14 provincial capitals and 30 of the 154 
municipalities in the island. There are, at least, 3000 e-mail accounts 
issued to medical institutions. The new internal communications have begun 
to link the existent health system of polyclinics, hospitals, research 
institutions and local family doctor offices.[105] Infomed resources supply 
the latest information on health from Cuba and the world. Cuba provides, 
free of charge, the complete text of 37 medical publications,[106]14 virtual 
texts (book length),[107] and 4 daily bulletins.[108]

Post Office - Subsidized Cost

Cuba has 1,044 post offices throughout the country; perhaps there is no 
other institution with such a widespread presence. There is currently an 
effort underway to offer e-mail to customers at a subsidized but direct cost 
to the user. The next step would permit access to intranets within the 
island, and, in time with financial resources permitting, connectivity to 
the WWW. The Minister of Information and Communications envisions a 
situation where, "the mail service can very well develop a system of e-mail 
imbedded with the public national communications network that allows a 
professor in Guantánamo who wants to communicate with Havana or New York, or 
who wants to find some information at CENIAI [the major Internet provider in 
Cuba] or the Science Pole [scientific communities aggregated in different 
parts of Cuba] or a university in London, will do so from Guantánamo, using 
his mail box, nearby. The person will have the possibility of having access 
to email just as you have a mail box, and from an electronic mailbox the 
person will be able to receive and download his correspondence and also send 
it, at certain cost."[109]
In May 2000 an experiment began at Zona 6, Havana, with e-mail at a post 
office using access fee cards paid in Cuban pesos. In 2001 new postal zones 
were included in Miramar, Plaza de la Revolución and Alamar, which represent 
the largest urban concentrations in the island.[110]

Computer Cafés

Computer cafés in Cuba, on the other hand, charge but at prices still below 
the real cost of connectivity. A recent report describes a user, "Tony 
Borrego, a Havana poet and literature specialist," who "spends a few minutes 
each day checking his e-mail in a little cyber-café hidden behind blue doors 
at Old Havana's historic Plaza de Armas. For 10 pesos a month . he and other 
Cuban artists have unlimited access to four computer terminals, and a door 
to the world outside Cuba." A more typical computer café, aimed at the 
foreign tourist, is found in hotels, it charges in dollars and it costs 
about $0.10 per minute. One can log on to any Internet browser-driven email 
account.[111]

There are very few computer cafés in Cuba and such individual options are 
not considered solutions by authorities, for two main reasons. First, they 
tend to favor individual consumption and pricing. Second, computer cafés are 
not conducive to research. Rather, the result is what one author calls 
"cibercafezinhozación." Internet is "consumed" through engaging in chats, in 
passive "shopping" or in vices such as searching for porno. The computer 
café, in other words, underutilizes productive and educational possibilities 
associated with the technology.[112] Thus, the necessity is to create a 
cultural awareness of the usefulness of the Internet to a less developed 
country.

Access and Purchasing Power

Throughout the Cuban economy there are different means for distributing 
goods and services. Some are distributed free of charge to the population, 
as is the case with education, health and social security. Others are 
available at prices below the cost of production and delivery, as is the 
case with food distributed through the rationing system. Water, electric and 
phone services are subsidized below cost up to a certain level of 
consumption and then a progressive increase of price occurs with increased 
consumption. Finally, there are goods and services sold on the basis of open 
market mechanisms. The latter is the case found in those stores that sells 
goods in dollars.

Such varying means of distribution can be found as well in the distribution 
of computing and connectivity. Those sectors considered socially useful have 
access to ICT gratis. Schools, hospitals, research institutions, government 
agencies, mass organizations and local communities do not pay for using 
email or the Internet when access is provided. Post offices will charge, but 
the price will be below the actual cost of the connection. The computer café 
or the email and web services available in hotels to tourists depend on the 
ability of the consumer to pay in dollars. The prices are high and not 
within the reach of the average Cuban. Such services in fact are in line 
with others directed towards foreigners with the economic objective of using 
the generated income to ensure and expand services available to Cubans.

Prices vary depending on the service, the amount of time on line and the 
speed of the transmission. It has been reported that there is a "variety of 
connect speeds and service options that include hourly billing and flat rate 
plans that range from about $30 to $600 [per month] depending on the 
options. All have installation charges ranging from about $75 to $200 [one 
time entry fee] depending on the service selected."[113] Such prices are 
often asked of foreign enterprises and embassies.

The cheapest regular, individual account is WebMail offered by ColombusNET. 
Colombus was established in 1995 by COPEXTEL Corporation.[114] Colombus is 
an ISP net with POP connectivity in 13 provinces, including the Isle of 
youth. In Havana it possesses four subnodes that are tied through a T1 high 
speed broadband connection. It also has 17 medium range segments (MAN) and 
multiple LAN segments. If one has access to the national network (this 
requires an "aval" - a statement from some institution to the effect that 
you need such an account), then it is possible to obtain a WebMail account 
(driven by an Internet browser). The account costs $20 per month with 
unlimited use. It does not provide search capabilities. An account is set up 
at http://www.islagrande.cu. Another route, used by foreign personnel, is to 
establish a full Internet account using ColombusNET. Its prices are the 
cheapest of all available ISPs in Cuba. The high prices serve to subsidize 
the use of those who have social access.
ColombusNET Prices, May 2001[115]

Type of Service Connection              Entry Fee (one time) 
Monthly Charge
International Mail                                      $75 
$60
National Mail                                            $75 
$35
Internet (8pm-6am)                                  $75 
$40
Internet daytime (5 hrs/month)                 $75 
$55
Internet daytime (10 hrs/month)               $75 
$70
Internet - 200 hrs/month                          $75 
$180
Internet - 150 hrs/month                          $75 
$170
Internet - 100 hrs/month                          $75 
$150
Internet -- 60 hrs/month                          $75 
$130
Internet -- 30 hrs/month                          $75 
$100
Internet -- 20 hrs/month                          $75 
$60
Internet -- 10 hrs/month                         $75 
$30


The Informal Economy and Access

Besides the regular accounts available through government and social 
mechanisms, the informal economy and personal networks also play a part in 
the development of Internet and email connectivity. Among those pathways 
are:

Black market accounts in dollars: These are issued by means of "virtual 
servers" resident within an approved server either because the system 
operator(s) allow it, or because they are unaware that the server is 
stealthily used. The challenge is gaining access to the port of entry.

Surreptitious accounts: where some people involved in running a system set 
up several extra accounts within the real server, and provide prospective 
users with such accounts as if they were legal users. In most cases, no 
money payment is involved.

Account sharing: where someone has a legal account and allows others to use 
it. The users' e-mail does not reside within the server that is used to 
enter the Internet; rather, the e-mails are kept in a server outside the 
country - be it Hotmail, Netscapemail, etc.

Distributor account: where someone has a legitimate account that is used to 
receive, collect and deliver email to others. Only one person has access but 
he/she serves as the real distributor of electronic mailings. The person 
could also send e-mail on behalf of the multiple users. This is not 
uncommon. In fact, email at most research centers is handled in this manner. 
Messages are passed between end users and distributors on diskette.
Of course, the situation is somewhat more complicated with the Internet than 
with electronic mail, although the same principles hold. In the case of the 
"distributor account," for example, that account holder does the search on 
behalf of the clients. In this mode, as a rule, there is some money paid by 
these clients. Of course, it is impossible to know how many users can be 
found in any of these modes. Obviously, Cubans will spend their limited 
resources buying basic needs before they can engage in using email or the 
Internet. But the use of both is more widespread than often assumed in 
journalistic or academic treatments. The relatively high educational level 
of Cuba's population has made it possible and enticing to enter this new 
domain.[116]

Footnotes:

[90] The Joven Club page is: http://www.jcce.org.cu

[91] Guy Girardet, Public Access to Internet Services, Presented at the 
African Internet and Telecom Summit, Banjul, 5-9 June 2000.

[92] Elliot Blair Smith, "Latin American Leaders See Potential in Net 
American Summit to Examine Online Opportunities," USA Today (Arlington, 
Va.), April 20, 2001.

[93] The most thorough description of the Joven Club has been written by 
Florencio Bueno Mesa, Joven Club de Computación y Electrónica: Una 
experiencia pedagógica comunitaria cubana sin precedentes en América Latina, 
Dirección Nacional de Joven Club, The Hague, Netherlands: International 
Institute for Communication and Development. August 28, 2000.

[94] Patrik Hunt, "True Stories: Telecentres in Latin America & the 
Caribbean," EJISDC No. 4-5, pp. 1-17 (Fundación ChasquiNet, Quito, Ecuador) 
patrik@chasquinet.org

[95] Ibid.

[96] Rossana Más Lobaina, El Joven Club: una entidad de nuevo tipo en la 
comunidad, Universidad de La Habana, Facultad de Comunicación, 2000. 
Manuscript.

[97] Rossana Mas Lobaina, Los Joven Clubs: Génesis de un movimiento, 
surgimiento, organización y desarrollo, Universidad de la Habana, Facultad 
de Comunicación. Manuscript. No date.

[98] "Impedimentos técnicos condicionan a Cuba su acceso a Internet," EFE 
(Madrid), March 3, 2001; "Suman 300 clubes de computación en el país," 
Agencia de Información Nacional (Havana), April 28, 2001; "Anuncia Fidel una 
nueva etapa para los Joven Club," Agencia de Información Nacional (Havana), 
April 4, 2001.

[99] "Colosal esfuerzo por socializar la informática y la computación," 
Granma (Havana), March 20, 2001.

[100] See http://www.jcce.org.cu/MisyObj.htm#objetivos

[101] Florencio Bueno Mesa, Joven Club de Computación y Electrónica: una 
entidad de nuevo tipo al servicio de las NTICs en las comunidades cubanas, 
(Modelo cubano para el desarrollo de la Informática y las NTICs en la 
comunidad), La Habana: Movimiento Joven Club de Computación y Electrónica, 
2000. Sitio Web: http://www.jcce.org.cu

[102] Rossana Mas Lobaina, Los Joven Clubs: Génesis de un movimiento, 
surgimiento, organización y desarrollo, op. cit.

[103] Inter American Development Bank, Summit of the Americas Strategic 
Programs - The Agenda of the IDB, Quebec, Canada, April 2001

[104] Scott S. Robinson, "Una reflexión sobre el futuro de los telecentros 
de México y America Latina," Facultad de Antropología, UAM IZTAPALAPA, 
Mexico, March 2001. http://www.chasquinet.org/telelac/puebla.html

[105] The health network is called Infomed. The national network is made up 
of provincial nodes in Havana [linking Isla de la Juventud, Pinar del Rio, 
Matanzas], Villa Clara [linking Trinidad and Sancti Spíritus], Camagüey 
[with ties with Ciego de Avila and Las Tunas] and Santiago de Cuba [Granma, 
Holguín and Guantánamo]). For a thorough description of the net and its 
services and resources see: http://www.sld.cu/acerca

[106] http://bvs.sld.cu/revistas/indice.html

[107] http://bvs.sld.cu/Libros/libros.html

[108] http://bvs.sld.cu/E/publicacion.html

[109] "Entrevista a Ignacio González Planas, titular del Ministerio de la 
Informática y las Comunicaciones, La conectividad es la clave," Giga, vol. 
3, No 4, 2000.

[110] Yirmara Torres Hernández, "Hacia un correo informatizado," Juventud 
Rebelde (Havana), July 18, 2000. For a somewhat biased report see: Vanessa 
Bauzá, "Cubans learn how to use computers, but Internet searches are done by 
a select group," Sun-Sentinel, March 1, 2001.[111] Laurie Goering, "In Cuba, 
Internet Access A Patchwork of Luck and Censors," Chicago Tribune, February 
23, 2001. ][112] Scott S. Robinson, "El jardín de los senderos digitales: 
Caminos que se bifurcan," IV Taller Latinoamericano de Internet, Mérida, 
Venezuela, May 29, 2001, Departamento de Antropología, UAM Iztapalapa, 
Mexico. ssr@laneta.apc.org[113] Jason L. Feer and Teo A. Babún, Jr., 
CubaNews Business Guide to Cuba, Miami: CubaNews, 2000, p. 5-24. [114] For a 
detailed description of Copextel see: 
http://www.copextel.com.cu/Sp/index.asp[115] Source: 
http://www.islagrande.cu/colombusnet/cnettarifas.html?#hosting[116] Nelson 
P. Valdés and Mario A. Rivera, "The Political Economy of the Internet in 
Cuba" Cuba in Transition, Vol. 9, 1999, p. 153, 
http://lanic.utexas.edu/la/cb/cuba/asce/cuba9/valdes.pdf

TO BE CONTINUED 


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