How Cuba is boosting access to the Internet

Cuba has lagged behind many Latin American countries in access to the Internet due to technological limitations, U.S. sanctions that restrict its connectivity and lack of financial resources to develop the proper infrastructure.

The situation is changing rapidly. Last year over 4 million Cubans out of a total population of 11 million used the Internet.

Havana is promoting a nationwide plan to equip homes, universities, medical institutions and local government offices with Internet access, and has multiplied the number of public Wi-Fi spots.

The Cuban government is footing the bill for these projects to ensure access is equitable, affordable and widespread.

New initiatives are underway at several state institutions to encourage safe use of the Internet, promote knowledge and culture, and make the lives of Cubans easier.

The Ministry of Public Health, for example, is in the process of computerizing patients' medical records and other administrative areas.

"To achieve that we have to plan and develop the technological infrastructure and the training of human resources. That is what we are doing in this first stage of this process," said Deputy Minister of Public Health Marcia Cobas.

Today, all Cuban health professionals have access to Infomed, one of the most visited sites in the country. The web portal hosts 669 medical sites and receives around 12 million visits a year by Cuban medical personnel on the island and abroad.

A new network called "Cuba Coopera," designed especially for the more than 49,000 Cuban medical professionals working in 63 countries, aims to provide information about the island and direct contact with their family members.

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry opened a site called "Cuba Educa," which provides educational content for students, teachers and parents.

Official figures show that more than 10,600 educational institutions, about 150,000 teachers and 2 million students now have access to computer labs.

Linked to "Cuba Educa" is another site where students can consult and query teachers about different subjects.

"Cuban educational professionals answer the students' questions live and in a quick manner. Through this new technology we are expanding the educational spectrum in the country," said Rolando Forneiro, Cuban deputy minister of education.

E-commerce is also benefiting from the latest technological development. State-run company Artex operates the websites "Soy Cubano" and "Mall Cubano," which make various products available for purchase internationally.

Cuba's state recording company Egrem has developed a mobile application in which users pay a 1-U.S.-dollar fee to download as many as 80 songs by contemporary Cuban artists.

The Culture Ministry now wants to expand online ticket purchase services for cultural shows, concerts and performances at theaters around the nation.

"We must have a contemporary vision of these hi-tech issues ..." said Fernando Rojas, the deputy minister of culture, "especially for young people who are eager to have quick and easy access to our cultural content."

  • Published in Cuba

Trump, the "Fake News" and the Cuba Internet Task Force

Just as it had been announced a week ago the Department of State summoned last Wednesday February 7th the first meeting of the Task Group dedicated to "increase" access to "information" and internet in Cuba.

As the official note reports at the website of the Department of State, the "Internet Team of Cuba made up by government and non-government representatives during next year will examine the technological challenges and opportunities to expand Internet access in Cuba with the objective of helping the Cuban people to enjoy the free and not regulated flow of information".

The new Cuba Internet Task Force is presided over by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Statefor the Western Hemisphere, John S. Creamer, and besides the Department of State, for other entities like the Cuba Broadcasting Office, the Federal Commission for Communications, the National Administration of Telecommunications and Information of the Commerce Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Freedom House and the Information Technology Industry Council. All of them, as it’s known, with backgrounds in the history of subversive war of the United States against Cuba.

According to several sources, to the meeting held under fluorescent illumination at a conferences room in the basement of the Department of State, several representatives of the so-called Cuban opposing groups and local entities that promote the full restitution of diplomatic relationships attended.

As expected, AP reported, the "opposers", responding to the voice of their master, they used the public space to charge against the Cuban government, making comparisons with the Second World War and with governments from Syria and Iran.

However, and according to AFP, the representatives of the American civil society were not very impressed with the outlined objectives.

According to French agency, lawyer Tony Martínez questioned that? There isn’t in the Department of State any specific group on internet on any other country. Why? Do they believe this is the way to attain the expected changes??

The same source highlighted that activist Cheryl LaBash pointed out that in Detroit, her city in 2015 the 40% of the population didn’t have access to internet. I think that the best way of improving access to internet in Cuba would be to negotiate with the Cuban government in a respectful way. Have any of you been in Cuba? LaBash’s question to the members of the group only receive silence for an answer.

The always present topic of the so-called "independent" media on its defense some argued that any North American plan would backfire because it would undermine the independence and credibility that it’s perceived in the flourishing "independent" media in Cuba.

On the other hand, the leader of the group, Undersecretary of State John Creamer who must deliver a final report by late October with recommendations to the Secretary of State and the President, remarked that the Cuban government leaks and blocks websites in an attempt to prevent Cubans from having the opportunity to criticize Cuban institutions and politicians. These sort of aggressive acts have a chilling effect in the exercise of freedom of speech.

Speaking of freedom of speech, the new task force created by the U.S. government for the media subversion against Cuba, it should concentrate its efforts and resources to take care of the problems that in this regard the United States face at present.

As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein alerted in Geneva: "the freedom of press and the integrity of journalists are at stake in the United States under the Administration of President Donald Trump.

"Trump is undermining the freedom of press, while dangerous events already in motion could lead to an increase of violence against journalists", said Zeid in that opportunity.

The official spoke of Trump’s constant accusations that the media produce fake news, the famous term coined by the leader to refer to lies or false news, and his repeated verbal attacks against the newspapers The New York Times, The Washington Post or the television CNN.

On top of that, in January this year, the International Press Institute (IPI) announced that it will carry an international mission to the United States to evaluate the changes in the media and the freedom of press panorama and expose its concerns to the related authorities.

IPI, like the entire world, doesn't see with very good eyes those repeated attacks against journalists and media during Trump’s presidential campaign that included verbal harassment and denial of press credentials.

For anyone with some brains is highly counteractive and paradoxical that the first censor of the United States evaluates in October the "freedom of speech" in Cuba. There isn’t greater machinery of "fake news" than the one usually used by the sort of task force groups like the recently created against Cuba against those countries that don't bend before the imperial hegemony, like the cases of Venezuela, Iran or Syria.

It will certainly be unethical to criticize the fake news at home while they create media machineries to export to other nations.

Amilkal Labañino Valdés / Cubasí Translation Staff

  • Published in Specials

Cuba: Computerization with an eye on the citizen (+ Infography)

The computerization process of Cuban society consolidates and marked a standard for our economic and social development in the year that has just concluded.

At the end of 2017, Wilfredo González, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Communications (MINCOM), reiterated that there’s no limitation from the political point of view for Cubans’ access to the Internet, but a willingness to increase both their access and the basic products and services that use new technologies for the benefit of the population.

He explained that the Policy for the Computerization of the Society approved last February is transversal, requires a national plan and therefore, the responsibility of several national bodies and entities, not only from the MINCOM, governing body that directs the resources of the country towards prioritized bodies and projects. “Within that plan we have 21 projects, which have a general scope (…) There started a computerization process of the public records of the country, a process that is run by the central body, that is, the Ministry of Justice, which we must boost together with the MINCOM (…); in the end, we are talking about the procedures and services for the population.”

“Granma Province, he claims, is a good example of what can be done to computerize a group of services with an eye on the citizen, such as the request of a birth certificate, a marriage certificate, or others offered by the Provincial Office of Justice and that are available in the Internet environment, because at least in this first part of the procedure, the citizen can request it via the digital space, in a website. This is, however, a complex process, because it requires an important organizational design in order to introduce technologies later.”

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The Cuban vice minister highlighted the effort of the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) in terms of institutional connectivity, as a basis for the computerization of the country and how it is working with national entities, Central State Administration bodies and Software development enterprises in creating conditions and infrastructure capacity. This is a step that allows processes that are computerized within these entities not only to benefit them, but the population as well.

He also praised high-impact projects, such as, the Surfing Rooms opened in 2013 and the so-called public WiFi networks in 2015. “This is a project that is worth highlighting, because we will continue developing it in the coming years and in my opinion it also handles a concept, that is, the concept of sharing and not excluding, as an imperative of our society, of our Revolution.”

According to the deputy minister of the Ministry of Communications, it has been necessary to organize and build more infrastructures for the creation of digital contents and there are outstanding actors in that process, such as the Youth Computer and Electronics Clubs across the country or CubaEduca Portal, of the Ministry of Education (MINED), positive experiences that have been widely accepted and that should continue expanding in 2018.

ETECSA: A main axis for development

As Wilfredo González states, the Telecommunications Company of Cuba continued the expansion of its services in the year that has just concluded, dynamically inserting itself into the computerization process and establishing itself as main axis for the development of society as a whole.

In conversation with Mayra Arevich, ETECSA executive president, she reiterated the priority the company grants to the individual wellbeing and development of Cubans. She said that 600,000 mobile phone lines have been activated in 2017 alone, for a total of 4.5 million in the country and works are underway to surpass 50 percent of telephone density with this service.

There are already more than 500 public WiFi hotspots in all municipalities and the marketing of the highly demanded Nauta Home service began last September 9, with more than 11,000 accesses now.

ETECSA worked on the expansion of other services linked to important institutional networks that later become welfare for the population: all universities were connected and their bandwidth was increased by high reliability fiber optic link; the connection to the most important hospitals of the country with their medicine faculties was completed and it was extended to more than 200 polyclinics and 190 pharmacies, 50 of them in the capital.

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For 2018, Mayra Arevich announced the expansion of the access of the educational sector at all levels, the start of Internet marketing via cell phone and the collection and payment gateway jointly with the National Bank of Cuba –what is known in the world as Mobile Bank– so customers can pay for such services as water, electricity, telephone itself, among others, via their cell phones.

“We have a high commitment with the mission the Revolution has given us with telecommunications development, of being able to contribute to the development of the country and the wellbeing of the population. (…) This is a sector that progresses very quickly and there’s a high commitment with the people”, she stated.

The computer of the Cuban family is boosted

The more than 600 Youth Computer and Electronics Clubs (JCCE) that are scattered throughout the country continued bringing the use of new technologies closer to the Cuban family in 2017. Thus, there stood out products like “Mochila” (Backpack), an important entertainment option that operates as a non-traditional TV cannel and that can be acquired in all Youth Clubs facilities free of charge.

The collaborative Encyclopedia Ecured consolidates today as Cuba’s best positioned website on both web 2.0 and the main Internet search engines, and continues to provide universal knowledge in dominium.cu to the largest possible number of customers with a current rate of 250,000 to 300,000 daily visits.

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For its part, “Reflejos” (Reflections) platform, blog creation space with almost 4000 active blogs, more than 23,000 users and 300,000 daily visits, continued providing a large amount of content to Red Cuba (Cuba Network) based on our identity, interests, tastes and demands of the society.

According to Danays Moreno, director of Youth Clubs Programs, the main challenges of these facilities that are celebrating 30 years of their creation, focused on the community and the family, are the modernization of this national network and the continuous boosting of the products that are offered and to make them sustainable over time.

Other important actors of the process: the University of Computer Sciences (UCI) and the Union of Computer Specialists of Cuba (UIC)

The University of Computer Sciences reached its 15th anniversary in 2017 and celebrated it with more than 14,000 high-profile graduates in the area of computing. More than 50 percent of all computing graduates of the country have graduated from this university, created by Cuban Revolution leader Fidel Castro with the idea that all the country’s territories were represented there.

“We are now in a better position to provide services with an eye on citizens jointly with entities, (…) to take that step more visible, more noticeable by Cubans, and that has to do with infrastructure issues, but we’re in better conditions, along with the institutions, which we’re working with, because we have cleared a path within the institution, in information management. Now, we should continue to consolidate the offers and services to the population”, Rosado specified.

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This year, the Union of Computer Specialists of Cuba has consolidated too and now has more than 8,000 members across the national territory. For its president, Aylin Febles, the entity has achieved important socialization, exchange and learning spaces based on a system of activities carried out throughout the country, has identified more than 100 applications that could have been developed by the individual initiative of a technology professional, private workers, universities, technology companies or from any other sector, but there is already a bank that can be made available for the computerization process.

Regarding the insertion of non-state workers, Febles claimed this is a small force within the UCI, but there are many projects that can be developed from their innovating ideas and an organization that listens to them, gives them prominence and facilities to insert themselves into this process together with other Cuban organizations and institutions. “The biggest challenge for 2018 is that every UIC member has a task, has a mission given by the organization and feels summoned to contribute to the computerization process.”

Present and future challenges

“In 2018, the computerization process of Cuban society will enter, undoubtedly, a higher phase. The application of the policy approved in the cybersecurity field will be an important challenge to protect not only the benefits of the Revolution, but also the data of Cuban citizens who access the Internet”, stated Wilfredo Gonzalez, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Communications.

In terms of access capacity, content development and digital services, the deputy minister considers it is necessary to seek greater affordability of the population, a much more agile organization of the process and to work on what constitutes today the main barrier Cubans have, and not only those of our country, but also those from Latin America: the absence of a relevant digital content in the networks.

Citizen participation as part of a principle of the Socialist Revolution, through the so-called e-government is another big challenge, so that citizens can suggest, share and form part of the process of socio-economic construction of the country, by means of their interaction with territorial bodies and governments via online.

Import substitution and export stimulation is something in which we also have to make progress as long as the industry inserts itself into the process –and not only through the state enterprise– to position a larger number of digital services in the Internet environment in our country and to reorganize the industry of computer applications.

“I think this is even a duty we have with the Commander in Chief, with the view the Commander in Chief had regarding this industry”, the Cuban DM summed up.

Cuba progresses in the safe computerization of society, aware that the Internet era and new technologies should be a learning space, with firm development steps, inclusive and safe in order to guarantee the invulnerability of the Revolution, the defense of culture and the prosperous and sustainable socialism that our people are building.

 informatizacion copia 3 copia

Translated by Jorge Mesa Benjamin / Cubasi Translation Staff

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Imagine! An ‘alternative internet’ not ‘completely in the hands of Facebook & Google’

Having a more alternative internet that is more controlled by its users offers better options to protect ourselves, says Dmytri Kleiner a privacy activist and software developer.

Telecom giants in the US are set for a significant victory if Washington goes ahead with its plan to repeal so-called 'net neutrality' rules. The Obama-era legislation was enacted to prevent internet service providers from potentially cornering parts of the digital market and charging extra fees. As a result, it's likely to have a direct impact on internet speeds in the US and cause a lot of inconvenience for users.

Meanwhile, Google has just been caught secretly collecting location data from Android phone users, even after they turned off location settings and had no SIM card in their devices.

So is there a way to escape from the increasing arbitrariness of the ‘regular internet’?

Kim Dotcom, the founder of Megaupload, who is wanted in America for alleged illegal file sharing, has pledged to create an ‘alternative internet’ to defend rights to privacy and freedom online.

@RT_com Goodbye, IP address: @KimDotcom to launch alternative internet https://on.rt.com/8stq

RT:  What are your thoughts on Kim Dotcom's idea? How is it possible to build an alternative internet?

Dmytri Kleiner: The current internet as it exists right now suffers from a lot of privacy concerns. A lot of those privacy concerns – some of them are inherent to the architecture of the platforms, but a lot of them are related more to the business models of a lot of the kind of companies that make money on the internet. Companies like Google and Facebook make their money by targeting advertising. And targeting advertising requires to know a lot more about you than untargeted advertising. So the more they know about you, the more they can sell these ads for.

Kim Dotcom's proposal is not something that I’ve seen too many details about, although he has been mentioning MegaNet for a few years now I think, as early as 2015. And there are a lot of things that sound pretty good about what he is proposing. Especially the idea of using mobile devices more actively. It is not clear what he means by that – whether he means there will be an overlay network on top of the kind of IP internet that adds anonymity along the lines of something like Tor or Tox; or whether he plans to use Bluetooth, or NFC (Near Field Communication,) or direct Wi-Fi capabilities of the mobile phones themselves to create a so-called mesh network along the lines of Briar or several other applications. But in any case, more development in this area would certainly be good – the better platforms that consumers have that deliver privacy and anonymity – the more we have – the better. But that won’t necessarily affect the actual concerns of data being collected by the likes of Google and Facebook.

@RT_com essential to keep freedom associated with ' - Canadian PM https://on.rt.com/8sxk

RT:  What about the speed at which people can use the internet. With these net neutrality rules being rolled back is Kim Dotcom's idea a way of circumventing those alternative rules that are going to come into force?

DK: We need to know more about the architecture to make a claim either way. If it is planning to use the kind of radio capabilities of mobile phones themselves, and the Bluetooth and NFC and Wi-Fi capabilities those phones have to create another mesh network, then you could have an advantage that it is much more difficult to block than centralized things. So net neutrality wouldn’t affect it directly. However, it is still may be a slower service to what people used to right now, given a neutral internet.

RT:  What would be the drawbacks be to an alternative internet? Some people might say there is too much anonymity, and perhaps there would be sort of fair game for criminals and the like? What’s your response to that argument?

DK: It seems to me the criminals aren’t having a terrible amount of difficulty operating on the internet as it is today. Having a more alternative internet that is more controlled by its users, gives us better options in order to protect ourselves. We can have collaborative moderation, and collaborative block lists and stuff like that that could make user-driven ways to defend against this stuff more effective, rather than being completely in the hands of Facebook and Google and Twitter, and only being able to access the protections that they provide.

@RT_com ‘Govt's most experienced privacy cop’: How the FCC’s reversal of may affect you https://on.rt.com/8ssx

RT:  Can you see the public taking to this alternative internet quickly, or would there be problems for them to connect? What are your thoughts on its accessibility?

DK: There are a lot of questions need to be looked at there. One is how user-friendly and usable this kind of stuff is. We know without a clear business model, like advertising that Facebook and Google have, you have to question where the investments are going to come from to create the kind of rich user experience that users are used to; to market it, to promote it, to support it – and all that kind of stuff. I mean given the right support I definitely think that an alternative could be made and it could be very popular.

However, it is not clear where that support could come from short of public institutions because as a private entrepreneur Kim Dotcom can only spend money that he can earn back. And it is not clear how he would earn money on such a thing, given that advertising and surveillance would not be used.

  • Published in World

US Internet User Data Still Unprotected

Washington, March 29 (Prensa Latina) US Internet access providers still have today the possibility to sell their customers' personal data to third parties without the obligation to obtain explicit permission.

As the Senate did last week, yesterday the House of Representatives approved with 215 votes in favor and 205 against the annulment of a regulation of the Federal Communication Commission that regulated the matter.

The text, which came out in 2016, had not yet come into force, newspaper reports said, adding that the new rule should be signed by President Donald Trump in the coming days.

By its part, civil right defender organizations criticized the decision of Congress because it allows the uncontrolled dissemination of personal data.

Among such information -they exemplified- religious beliefs, political positions, sexual orientation and health states of users can be revealed.

According to Natasha Duarte, from the Center for Democracy and Technology, these issues are among the most intimate in a person's life, and consumers must be able to control what companies do.

Users' data belong to consumers, not to providers, Democrat John Lewis wrote on the social network Twitter.

In his opinion, personal information should not be sold for profit by entities that offer access to the so-called network of networks.

  • Published in World

Cuba: New Wi-Fi Spots will Extend Use of Internet

ETECSA reminds of the possibility offered by Computing Clubs as an alternative Internet browsing. Highlighting the advantages of permanent cards for the Nauta service and specifies that Wi-Fi spots will grow before year end and rates for the use of Internet will gradually drop.

Cuba has the political will to continue advancing in the computerization process and bring these services closer to the population, vice minister for Communications Wilfredo González assured yesterday on a TV show devoted to this important topic.

González informed that since June 4, 2013, at the beginning of the amplification process, there are today more than 3 millions Cubans who have access to Internet and approximately 1 million Nauta users.

The intention is to keep encouraging, he said, the infrastructure in communications, either wired or wireless, and boost the broadband development, quality guarantee. The economic-financial elements mark the development of these goals, he finished.

He mentioned 35 projects of greater impact in the development of technologies considered basic. He said these projects are supported in two fundamental premises: to create capacities and technological infrastructure and at the same time to consider technological security and sustainability. These 35 projects are considered as the Red Cuba platform.

The banking system appears among these projects, the computerization of public records, to this purpose is necessary to computerize the primary registers – he stressed -, as well as that of digital TV. As for digital TV he said that more than 500 thousand decoding boxes have already been bought.

ETECSA’s Executive Director, Mayra Arevich Machín, underlined that the development of communications infrastructure depends significantly on how sustainable is done. She emphasized that "the development of telecommunications in Cuba must follow the same pace of economy."

She highlighted the importance of security to avoid computer attacks. We cannot risk our economy neither the security of services. Therefore, we must work to keep our applications with security and sustainability."

Arevich remembered that since year 2000 the development of Internet began in Cuba and she emphasized the important premise of improving the infrastructure and bandwidth of entities. Today, she added, most Cuban ministries can load their applications in data centers.

Among the goals achieved this year she mentioned the work in the integration of universities, as well as the modernization of the Infomed platform. It’s something we are very proud of, she commented.

The directive of the Cuban company made public the inclination of users for the Nauta temporary account, which have sold 3,8 millions approximately. Nevertheless, she called the attention on the advantages of the permanent account whose one-year duration allows the owner to recharge through bonus. Arevich insisted in that the permanent account offers greater facilities, not trips to sale offices and turning to resellers' as option.

There are nearly 3 million cell phones right now - it has been an explosion in just a few years, - and almost a million clients use the Nauta mail.

The Wi-Fi Spots

ETECSA’s Executive Director, Mayra Arevich, expressed the intention of increasing the number of Wi-Fi spots which are presently 35.

Questioned about the practice of having several users with a single account, she clarified that, although it’s doable, is counterproductive to the quality of the service they get because for better results a certain bandwidth is needed.

There are a few Wi-Fi spots that do not comply with all the conditions so people can navigate comfortably. For the coming spots are intended to make previous consultations to municipal and provincial organizations to achieve greater comfort.

Regarding the Nauta service rates, she said that the policy to follow is the gradual drop in the prices which went from 4.50 cuc per hour to 2 cuc. “We know it is high, she said, it depends on the system capacity, but we will continue lowering the rates. We’ll look for special offers for the permanent accounts".

The computer sciences and other windows

The vice-dean of production at the University of Computer Sciences (UCS), Reynaldo Rosado Roselló, assured in the television that today the potential of development of computer sciences in Cuba gathers 30 software developing companies, which today works in teams and strategic alliances. 

As key element of this task he mentioned the human resources. He remembered that 13 years ago Fidel had the vision of creating the UCS to give crash courses to computer programmers and today we can speak of a software industry, because we have an elevated number of computer engineers and from other similar studies.

He mentioned 128 projects developed by the UCS, an atypical university since it’s an educational and productive center at the same time while it works supporting the Cuban software industry.

Regarding the Young Computing and Electronic Club, created in 1987, its directress, Anamaris Solórzano, highlighted that among their priorities appear the technical support to the Cuban encyclopedia Ecured, with about 200 thousand daily visits.

It has also been created the portable Ecured and the Ecumobile (for android 2.2 or higher) in two versions, with and without images, the second can be downloaded from the net.

During the television program it was announced the creation of the Union of Computer Engineers of Cuba, a request from the IT and communications professionals of the country, said Ailyn Febles, vice-dean of the UCS and coordinator for the creation process of the new organization.

At present nearly 4 thousand professionals have been registered and creation process must conclude next January. “It will be, referred Febles, an organization leading the free software and defender of the technological sovereignty and pioneer of the technological breakthroughs attained by Cuba."

Last, but not least, it was approached the aspect of cyber security.  

Since 2014 until 2015, more than 176 nations have been notified on cybernetic attacks carried out against our country. Hence a key element is to promote the international solidarity in this regard. Cooperation ties have been established with more than 20 nations, including China and Russia. Cuba supports the use of the cyberspace with peaceful ends.

The conclusion of the program aimed at continuing advancing in the computerization of the Cuban society and the access of the population to new technologies, always cyber security keeping in mind and without forgetting the importance of these breakthroughs for the development of the economy, sciences and the entire work of society. It was noted that the United States has been the main obstacle for the development of telecommunications and computer science in Cuba.

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