Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Ellery Robert Biddle, Harvard University, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, has published Rationing the Digital: The Politics and Policy of Internet Use in Cuba Today as Internet Monitor Special Report Series No. 1. Here is the abstract.
Download the paper from SSRN at the link.
Cuba has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in the Western hemisphere and is routinely ranked among countries with the highest restrictions on Internet use in the world. But within both categories, it is something of a rare bird.
While the precise number of Internet users in the country is difficult to calculate, it is clear that a lack of infrastructure, combined with economic and political hurdles, has left access to the global Internet out of reach for most Cubans. But this may soon change. This spring, the country’s only telecommunications firm, the state-owned ETECSA, activated two undersea fiber optic cables that are set to drastically increase connection speeds in Cuba; the firm also opened over 100 cybercafes across the island. Officials have since made public promises to increase access and lower currently exorbitant fees for Internet use. This could fundamentally change the island’s information economy.
Although Cuba is routinely listed alongside China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia as one of the most Internet-restrictive countries in the world, there is no conclusive evidence that the Cuban government practices widespread filtering. While a handful of websites related to dissident activity are blocked, Cubans who use the global Internet are able to browse the web and participate in digital communities without facing extensive content controls. But most don’t get this far. Although the country has an active national Intranet, access to the global Internet is availably mainly to those in high-skilled professional sectors and academia. The potential impact of digital media and the global Internet on Cuban society has been limited due to the lack of network access on the island. Yet this has not prevented the increasing circulation of digital media among the country’s nascent but growing community of tech-savvy citizens.