Cuba is rolling out its first public wireless service in the city of Santiago de Cuba, several reports sourced to the Union of Cuban Journalists indicate. But the price, $4.50 an hour, would be unbearable to most Cubans, as the average salary there is $20 a month.
The announcement came shortly before the Cuban government released the last 53 political prisoners from its jails, and comes as Cuba is seeking to mend its relations with the U.S. and to open itself more to the outside world.
Internet is a contentious issue in Cuba: Until 2008, even owning a personal computer was forbidden by the paranoid Communist regime. Since then, the government instituted a limited domestic Internet service, which is essentially limited to basic email. Doctors, professors, and government officials have been able to apply for access to the outside Internet in recent years. Alan Gross, the U.S. citizen who was released as part of last month’s historic accord, had been convicted of smuggling satellite phones for the purpose of setting up illegal Internet services back in 2009.
Some of the Cuban government’s paranoia may have been justified. Last year, the Associated Press reported that the U.S. government had planned a secret “Cuban Twitter” network, using cell phone messages, in a ploy to undermine the regime.
More recently, some Cubans have been allowed access to the wider Internet from their homes, though so far wireless services had been restricted to hotels and government offices. Now this may be slowly changing too—yet with prices so high and many restrictions in place, it is little wonder that only 5% of Cubans are online. There is a long way to go until full normalization.