Monday, November 30, 2015

Alan Gross interviewed on Sixty Minutes

Alan Gross gave his first interview last night on CBS 60 Minutes. He spoke of his suffering in prison, his 20 years as a contractor installing communication equipment in 54 countries, and his surprise at not being quickly freed by the US Government. The segment also told of the key role played by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont in arranging for the prisoner swap that freed Gross and the effort of Alan's wife Judy, who worked tirelessly to keep the case in the public eye -- losing her house in the process.

I have said that the equipment Alan Gross actually brought to Cuba would have had no political impact if he had succeeded -- it would have been a drop in the bucket and a waste of US resources. As it turned out, it provided Cuba with a propaganda opportunity and a bargaining chip in negotiations with the US. I think Alan Gross agreed with me in his Sixty Minutes interview last night -- he described it as a "cockamamie" program.

That opinion was shared by senator Leahy who considered the effort "stupid" and "a disservice to all the men and women who work so well for our country with USAID around the world."

I share Gross's belief that "access to information is a right for everyone" and am happy to see him home. The best part of the interview for me was to see Gross smiling and relaxed with a sense of humor.

(You can see more background on the Alan Gross case here).

Alan Gross, before, during and near the end of his imprisonment

Alan and Judy Gross when he returned

Gross being greeted by Secretary of State Kerry

Smiling and relaxed on Sixty Minutes

NY Times editorial on the Internet in Cuba

The New York Times has published an editorial call to "bring Cuba online." they say "millions of Cuban citizens could have affordable access to the Internet in a matter of months" if only the government were willing to allow Google to go forward with a Project Link installation or invite companies to bid on mobile licenses, as was done in Myanmar.

I appreciate their goal, but there are stumbling blocks and problems with their proposal.

Google made an unspecified proposal to build Internet infrastructure in Cuba, but some in the Cuban government did not trust Google's representatives. The Times suggests Google's Project Link, which has been implemented in Kampala and Accra, as a model, but Project Project Link only provides a wholesale fiber backbone in a city, not national, retail coverage -- and it would take more than a few months to implement.

The editorial also ignores the interests of ETECSA, the Cuban telecommunication monopoly. If ETECSA's goal is to maximize profit or government revenue, the Times proposal is a non-starter.

They also overlook Cuban commitments to and history of doing business with Chinese telecommunication firms.

Even if the government were willing, inviting in Google or accepting Myanmar-like bids for mobile licenses, would limit Cuban technology and, more important, policy choices. Cuba has an opportunity to leapfrog technology and implement policies that will benefit the Cuban people.

I am not optimistic that that will happen, but it is possible that after 2018, when Raúl Castro has retired and the Cuban economy has improved, Cuba will have the funds and will to implement a uniquely Cuban, modern Internet.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Cuban Internet interruptions

Is there a connection between Cuba's email interruption and access to the Reflejos blogs?

Cuban email has been interrupted and colleague Doug Madory discovered that access to Cuba's Reflejos blogs at is inconsistent. One can access the Reflejos home page, but some links work and others do not. For example, try these permalinks:

or the blog home pages: and

The connections to these requests are inconsistent. Sometimes they work and others not. When they fail, they do not time out, they just take forever, so a handshake must at least be made.

Does that suggest some sort of flooding DoS attack? Do these problems have a common cause?

Update 11/21/2015

The Reflejos blogs seem to be working again, but I've not seen an update on Nauta email.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

ETECSA will sell -- and service -- Huawei phones.

ETECSA has agreed to sell and service Huawei phones. Since Cuban cell service is 2G, they will be used for voice calls and Internet access at WiFi hotspots and elsewhere. (I have heard that there is a little 3G coverage in Cuba -- is that the case)?

Javier Villariño, Huawei’s director of sales in Cuba, said the phones would “improve the voice quality and data services offered by ETECSA." Perhaps more important, he said Etecsa would be able to distribute spare parts and accessories, and train repair staff. That sounds like ETECSA will be competing with independent, self-employed phone repair people.

Since I am a customer (victim) of a mobile access oligopoly and a fixed access monopoly (Sprint and Time Warner Cable), that sounds ominous to me.

Photos of the phones are shown below -- does anyone recognize them or know their specs?

China has dominated the Cuban Internet infrastructure market in recent years and Chinese exports to Cuba are increasing in all sectors, reaching $1.33 billion in the first three quarters of this year, up by 82.4 percent. On the other hand, Cuban exports to China have dropped, due to a decrease in the production of nickel, which is the country's principal export. Over 40 Chinese companies participated in the 33rd Havana International Fair, which ends today.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Merchise Startup Circle meetup and Startup Weekend

The Merchise Startup Circle, which has been encouraging Cuban software startups for some time has organized a Havana Startup Weekend for November 6-8.

Here is the weekend schedule:
  • Friday evening people will present short proposals for startups and those voted best will be worked on during the weekend. Teams will be formed around the chosen ideas so people will collaborate and learn from each other.
  • Saturday, the teams will meet at 9 AM and work on their proposed projects with the assistance of technical and business mentors. There will be food and the teams can work late into the night if they want to.
  • Sunday will be for demos and judging. The winners will advance to compete in the regional event of the Global Startup Battle..
Merchise will also host a meetup the day before the Startup Weekend, Thursday November 5.

They've had some trouble with the online registration system -- if you have trouble send an email to giving your name and a brief description of your background, like "Programmer/freelancer/ruby & prolog" or "graphic designer/etc").

You can also check it out on Facebook or Twitter.

I wish I could there!

Update 11/9/2015

Forty eight people took part in the weekend and 27 projects were proposed. The group voted on the proposals and selected eight to be worked on by teams during the rest of the weekend.

At the end of the weekend, the jury awarded first place to My Storefront, an app to enable people to exchange used clothing; second place went to the team working on Help Yourself, an app that matches recipes to the ingredients in your refrigerator, and third place went to Up Up, an app for creating off line posts on social networks. Sport City, a community of sports fans in the city, received an honorable mention.

Here is a five minute video giving a quick recap of the Startup Weekend and the projects people worked on:

For more words and pictures, check out @swhavana.

My guess is that the exchange of ideas and energy and new connections among people was the most important result of the meeting -- what next?

Update 11/14/2015

Third place in the Startup Weekend went to an app for creating off-line posts to social networks -- an app well suited to a place with Cuba's minimal connectivity. If I had been there, I would have proposed an app that went in the other direction.

I would like a program or an Internet service that would take a blog like this one, and convert it to a single file in a common format like Word or PDF. That would allow me to create a snapshopt of the entire history of the blog -- including links, images and comments -- and share it with people in Cuba who do not have fast, online access to it.

The blog is on Google's Blogger site, so I would have to supply the template and current XML file with the contents. If it was being read off-line, the posts would be readily available and, since most of the links are internal to the blog, they would work also. External links would require a live Internet connection.

If someone built such an app for Blogger and for Wordpress, most blogs could be read off-line in Cuba.

Update 11/17/2015

More Startup Weekend video -- a lot of energy and enthusiasm!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Before and after Cuba's shift to the ALBA 1 undersea cable

Northwestern researchers Zachary S. Bischof, John P. Rula and Fabian E. Bustamante have published In and out of Cuba, a paper characterizing Cuba's connectivity.

They gathered data during March and April 2015 and found that traffic going out of Cuba typically traveled through the ALBA-1 cable, but traffic coming into Cuba was often routed over satellite links, adding about 200 ms to round trip times (RTTs).

The data was gathered using RIPE Atlas probes, small, USB-powered hardware devices that hosts attach to an Ethernet port on their router. There are 8,771 of these probes around the world, including one in Havana. Upstream results from that probe may or may not have been representative of the nation as a whole.

While the study results were accurate last Spring, they do not reflect the current situation. Last July, Doug Madory, Director of Internet Analysis at Dyn Research alerted me to the fact that Cuba's international traffic had largely shifted to the undersea cable.

I forwarded the Northwestern paper to Doug and he sent me the following graphs, showing traffic to both of Cuba's autonomous network operators for March 30, 2015 and October 30, 2015:

In March, there was considerable satellite traffic from NewCom and Intelsat.

By October, there was little satellite traffic.

As mentioned above, the Atlas probe may not have been representative. The graph on the left side of the following figure shows traffic to the IP address range the Atlas probe resides in. During the time the Northwestern team gathered their data, inbound traffic was almost entirely via satellite (Intelsat or NewCom), but it shifted subsequently. The graph on the right shows that the majority of traffic coming to representative destinations of the Cuban ISP ETECSA was routed over the cable during the study period. In July, it nearly all shifted to the cable, where it is today.

Most traffic to the probe shifted to cable in June (left). ETECSA received relatively
little satellite traffic during the study period and essentially none after June (right).

The analysis by the Northwestern team is thorough and insightful, but it seems they have been caught by academic publishing delays. They say this was just the start of ongoing study of the Cuban Internet and I am looking forward to seeing their future work.

Finally, today's Internet access and speeds in Cuba are very poor but, given today's low Internet penetration, domestic infrastructure, not international capacity is the key constraint.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Freedom House report on Internet Freedom 2015: Cuba passes Ethiopia, but remains "unfree"

Freedom House reported on 65 nations (88% of the world population) in their 2015 Freedom on the Net report, which came out this week. Cuba ranked 61st this year -- only four nations -- Ethiopia, Iran, Syria and China were less free than Cuba. The next lowest Latin American nation was Cuban ally Venezuela, which ranked 45th.

As you see below, the overall freedom index is composed of three sub-indices: obstacles to access, limits on content and violations of user rights:

Cuba's rank improved slightly in each of the sub-indices and, with a total of 81, they moved from 62nd overall to 61st, passing Ethiopia.

Their absolute score on each sub-index also improved (lower scores are best).

While there was slight improvement, Cuba remains the only "not free" nation in the western hemisphere:

For my money, the best part of the Freedom House study is their detailed essays on the state of the Internet in each nation. These essays are organized around the three sub-indices and they are well referenced and go into some detail.

Here is the summary figure from the essay on Cuba:

You will find the essay on Cuba here. Check it out.

Update 10/31/2015

In a post last year, I looked at the 2014 Freedom House report and several other documents to put the Cuban Internet in context. The one sentence summary is that the Cuban Internet lags far behind what one would expect from a nation with Cuba's economy and levels of health and education.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Cuban UN report condemns the embargo -- their telecommunication claims are overstated..

The embargo is one obstacle faced by the Cuban Internet -- the claim overlooks the impact of the Cuban economy and the government's fear of information freedom

On October 23th, the United Nations General Assembly is expected to vote on a resolution urging the United States to end its economic embargo on Cuba.

Last June, Cuba issued a report arguing against the embargo and claiming that it has cost the Cuban people $833.7 billion -- $57,122,900 of that in the sector of "communications and informatics, including telecommunications."

I looked at the telecommunication claims. The first dealt with infrastructure:
In the area of telecommunications, the export of products and services to Cuba has been authorized as well as funding for the creation of infrastructure facilities. Its principal limitation is the requirement of paying in cash and in advance, even when foreign or US banks based outside of the United States are now able to provide financing for these purchases. This is incongruous with international trade practices where this type of payment is not used and companies provide loans to the buyer in order to ensure the sale of their products and services. The possibility of carrying out these operations becomes more complicated because of the banks being worried about making transactions related to Cuba due to the policy of financial harassment applied under the government of President Obama.
I'll abstain from commenting on the financial regulations and customs, because I don't know about them, but I will point out that the US is not the only telecommunication infrastructure supplier in the world. Most notably, China has provided a lot of Cuban telecommunication infrastructure.

The second claim is that the embargo has violated Cuba's right to development:
In the sector of communications and informatics, including telecommunications, there were adverse effects recorded in the period that totaled 57,122,900 dollars. Losses associated with revenues not earned and for the geographical relocation of business of the Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba (ETECSA S.A. for its acronym in Spanish) add up to over 38 million dollars due to the impossibility of accessing leading, high quality brands and/or equipment on the telecommunications market distributed by US entities. For similar reasons, the Cuban firm Copextel, dedicated to supplying and repairing telecommunications equipment, suffered losses of 2.5 million dollars.

The blockade continues to be the principal obstacle to development of infrastructure in Cuba that would allow for improved access to the Internet. The US is the worldwide emporium for informatics technologies and it exercises hegemonic control over the network of networks. Because it is subject to the laws of the Federal Communications Commission and the US Department of State, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICAN) that provides IP addresses and names to the rest of the world is limited in terms of the services it can provide to Cuba.

Despite visits to Cuba of senior Google executives and the marked interest in bringing their products and services into the Cuban market, the blockade still prevents the use of unrestricted services and applications such as Google Chrome, Google Analytics and Google Play Store.
I have several problems with this:
  • They say it is impossible to access "leading, high quality brands," but they have done considerable business with Huawei and others. (Cisco will be happy to hear that Huawei is not a leading, high quality brand).
  • They seem to believe that the FCC and US State Department have limited ICAN (sic) in providing services to Cuba. I'd like to know which services have been withheld and how removing the embargo would change ICANN's policy.
  • US regulations allow Cuban mobile apps to be sold in the Google Play Store (and any other venue), but Google has not yet authorized that.
  • Google will; however, list free Cuban apps in the Play Store. More important, the Google executives mentioned above offered (unspecified) free Internet infrastructure to Cuba and the offer was refused. I think it is safe to say that Google, like Huawei, is a world class Internet infrastructure company.
These are relatively specific points, but they are subsumed in the general statement that:
The blockade continues to be the principal obstacle to development of infrastructure in Cuba that would allow for improved access to the Internet.
The embargo is only one obstacle faced by the Cuban Internet -- the claim overlooks the impact of the Cuban economy and the government's fear of information freedom. The impact of the embargo and the poor state of the Cuban economy on the Internet have diminished over time -- I am not sure about government fear.

This will be the 24th annual vote on resolutions calling for the end of the embargo. Last year, only the US and Israel voted no. There has been speculation that the US might abstain this year, since President Obama favors ending the embargo. I wonder how Israel will vote :-).

Update 10/23/2015

The Guardian reports that the US has decided not to abstain from a vote on the resolution because it does not fully reflect the new spirit of engagement between the US and Cuba. Evidently the US asked for revisions that would let them abstain, but the revisions that were offered were insufficient.

I've only looked at the section on telecommunication, but if the rest of the resolution is as far off base as that section, I understand the administrations decision.

The vote is now set for October 27th.

Update 10/27/2015

The vote is in and the resultion condemning the embargo passed by a vote of 192-2. Last year it was 182-2, but this year no nations abstained.

In his remarks, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez acknowledged the new relationship with the United States, but said “the facts show crystal clear” that embargo is still being “fully and completely implemented.”

It is not fair for Rodriguez to claim that the embargo is “fully and completely implemented” since the Obama adminstration has removed meaningful restrictions. Sadly, that sort of one-sided rhetoric -- and the overstated telecommunications claims in the resolution -- is endemic in politics. that's what keeps in business.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez at the UN General assembly

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Trying to clarify the latest U. S. opening to Cuba -- and failing

One way to get clarification is to offer some Cuban software for sale and see what happens -- in the U. S. and in Cuba.

Last September, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) eased restrictions on trade with Cuba. Restrictions were reduced in many areas -- travel, commercial and financial transactions, support for and remittances to people in Cuba, etc., but the one that caught my eye was an easing of restrictions on telecommunications and Internet-based services, including this statement:
Mobile applications. To further enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people, OFAC is adding a provision in section 515.578 to authorize the importation into the United States of Cuban-origin mobile applications. In addition, OFAC is authorizing the employment of Cuban nationals by persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to develop such mobile applications.
It sounds like the US government will now allow Cuban programmers to sell mobile apps in the US. (Recall that computer programmer is one of the jobs authorized for self employment by the Cuban government).

Could a Cuban programmer now offer apps for sale in places like the Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft app stores?

The new rule leaves several things unclear, so I asked the Treasury department for clarification, as follows:
  • Why is the regulation limited to "mobile" apps and how do they define "mobile" app since Microsoft (Windows 10) and Google (Android) are moving to software that can run on a phone, tablet, laptop or desktop PC -- it seems that mobility is a property of the device running the app, not the app itself.
  • Can the application be developed for a U. S. business, as opposed to an individual?
  • Does the Cuban programmer have to be a self-employed individual (a "cuentapropista") or could the app be developed by a Cooperative or a government enterprise?
Here are the answers:
  • The application can be developed for a U. S. business.
  • OFAC does not have a definition of "mobile" and, if an individual has a specific question as to whether certain software qualifies for the general license, they can contact OFAC.
  • They have no comment on the reason for limiting the ruling to mobile apps.
  • They have no comment on the question of dealing with cooperatives or Cuban government enterprises.
I also sent queries to Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple asking whether they had plans to offer paid Cuban apps in their online stores and none of them replied.

Cubans are allowed to offer free apps in the Google Play Store, but not paid apps.

During a recent, somewhat frustrating, trip to Cuba, U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker stated that "There is much we in the United States do not fully understand about the Cuban economic system." While I would not want to suggest that U. S. regulations are as hard to understand as Cuba's, this one seems muddy.

One way to get clarification is to offer some Cuban software for sale and see what happens -- in both the U. S. and in Cuba.

Update 10/17/2015

Reader Rodney Hernandez pointed out that there is at least one free Cuban app in the Google Play store, the AlaMesaCuba restaurant guide. The publisher says an iTunes version will be available soon. The FAQs on the Google Play site state that AlaMesaCuba "Has been created and developed by Cubans living in Cuba" and their domain name registrant has a Cuban address and phone number, so Cubans are working on the app.

But there is a US tie as well. The Web site says the app is "offered by" ISLA Management LLC and the "developer" address is that of Inca Investments, a Miami investment firm that specializes in Latin America.

One more thing -- I could not find the AlaMesaCuba app by searching on my Nexus phone, but I was able to install it from the Web site. When I first ran it, it downloaded the current database. I guess the database is maintained in Cuba and updated periodically.

I've never encountered an app that was listed online, but not on my phone before -- is that common? Does it have something to do with fuzzy regulations?

Update 10/22/2015

I've got two Cuban apps on my phone now, AlaMesaCuba and KickRajoy. KickRajoy is written by a Cuban living out of the country and AlaMesaCuba is written by programmers living in Cuba, but distributed with the help of people in the US.

Both are free, but KickRajoy has ads at the bottom of the screen. I assume that the programmer gets a portion of that ad revenue. Does AlaMesaCuba generate revenue in fees for listings? Have their US partners paid the developers as an investment?

Are there other apps being sold in the US with payments going to Cuba? Note that Cubans are now allowed to write apps for companies and clients -- they do not have to be in Google's store or anyone elses.

Update 10/29/2015

There is a discussion of this post at Slashdot.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Chringadecuba blog has been suspended.

In July, 2012, blogger Carlos Alberto Pérez moved his blog from Wordpress to his own domain because he worried about the possibility of Wordpress censorship.

Ironically, his Wordpress blog is still online, but has been suspended:

There has been online speculation that this may have been the result of an imperialist maneuver, doubting that Cuba could suspend a account, wondering whether Carlos Alberto had paid his registration bill, etc.

It turns out that the server is still reachable and running, but it just serves up an old fashioned CGI script and the name registration has been paid through next June. I spoke with Baruch College Professor and Cuba scholar Ted Henken who has learned that the Web hosting company has suspended the server due to a denial of service attack. Henken suspects that the attack may have been orchestrated by the government of Cuba in retaliation for leaked documents that have been posted on the blog. (I've spoken with someone at the datacenter where the blog is hosted, but have not heard back from the hosting company).

If the government did execute a denial of service attack on Chiringadecuba, I would be extremely disappointed. Carlos is not subversive -- he is a conscientious critic, stating "I don't criticize to knock the system down. On the contrary, I criticize to perfect the system."

(Pérez has been offering constructive criticism from the start. In his first post he described ten municipal workers with a truck who had the "job" of clearing fallen leaves from a street).

As Henken points out, the thaw in US-Cuban relations and the growth of digital civil society on the island gives the Cuban government an opportunity to demonstrate that it can tolerate constructive critics and to learn from them. I hope to see Chringadecuba soon.

Update 10/15/2015

Chringadecuba is back online!

Update 10/23/2015

After a short time online, Chiringadecuba was hit by another DDoS attack and taken down. Plans are being made to move it to a better protected site. It will be back -- stay tuned!

Update 10/30/2015

Chringadecuba is back online at a different hosting site. Hopefully, this one will be able to withstand a DDoS attack if another one occurs. The archived posts are still not reachable, but we are working on it.

Update 11/2/2015

I hope this is the last update I have to write to this post. The Chiringadecuba blog has been fully restored -- the archives are now back online.

Chringadecuba was running on a server in Montreal, Canada when it was attacked, as shown in this log excerpt:

The blog has been moved to a new, secure host, the post archive has been restored and blogger Carlos Alberto Pérez is posting again.

It is no secret that Cuba is controversial -- the government has both staunch supporters and severe critics. Ironically, the attack on Chiringadecuba could have been done by people on either side. Pérez supports the government and therefore he is willing to criticize it. As he has said "I don't criticize to knock the system down. On the contrary, I criticize to perfect the system."

A Cuban scholar once told me that knew he was doing his job well when both sides were angry with him. I guess Chiringadecuba is doing a good job.

Update 11/7/2015

It looks like there may be a new attack on Chiringadecuba. Checking the cPanel log for 30 minutes yesterday there were 866 HTTP calls in the thirty minutes between 17:11:13 and 17:41:53. They ranged in size from 0-7,263,988 bytes, with an average size of 74,190 bytes. (298 were empty). The majority were page GETs.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Cuban infrastructure investment -- China won the first round

China won the first round, what about the future?

The US wants to sell Internet equipment and services in Cuba, but we have not succeeded.

In December 2014, the administration announced that we were taking "historic steps to chart a new course in our relations with Cuba and to further engage and empower the Cuban people." The following month, the US International Trade Commission began a study of the economic effects of US restrictions on trade with and travel to Cuba. They held hearings on potential exports in several sectors and I testified on potential telecommunication exports.

In March, the US sent a high-level delegation to Cuba to discuss telecommunication and the Internet and no doubt Internet service and equipment companies began analyzing the potential Cuban market. Most visibly, Google visited several times and eventually made a concrete proposal for the installation of some sort of wireless infrastructure, but that offer was rejected, perhaps for lack of trust in the US Government and Google.

Google made several trips to Cuba, but their proposal was rejected.

This month the White House extended our policy, authorizing US companies to establish a business presence in Cuba and provide "certain" telecommunications and Internet-based services or do joint ventures or enter into licensing agreements to market such services.

To date, this effort has led just a few small Internet deals like Netflix offering Cubans accounts, Airbnb renting rooms or Verizon offering cell-phone roaming in Cuba.

Cuba has turned to China, not the US, for Internet connectivity and equipment and is committed to doing so in the short term future.

China played a major role in the financing and construction of the ALBA-1 undersea cable, which connects Cuba to Venezuela and Jamaica. It was reported that China lent Venezuela $70 million to finance the cable, which was installed by a joint venture made up of Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell and Telecomunicaciones Gran Caribe (TGC) -- TGC is a joint venture between Telecom Venezuela (60%) and Cuban Transbit SA (40%), both state-owned companies.

The cable landed in Cuba in February 2011, but the first traffic was not transmitted until January 2013. Much of Cuba's international traffic continued to be routed over satellite links until July 2015, when nearly all of it had finally shifted to the cable. Cuba's international traffic continued to be routed over slow, expensive satellite links for over four years because the cable landing point is at the east end of the island and there was little domestic infrastructure to connect it to Havana and other locations.

The ALBA-1 cable traffic has shifted from satellite (blue) to cable.

At the time of the cable installation, we speculated that China might play a role in building the domestic infrastructure needed to reach it and it turns out that Cuba had awarded Huawei a contract to build a national fiber-optic network in the year 2000. Today there is a backbone network connecting the Cuban provinces to the cable landing point. The current load is light compared to expected future traffic from homes, schools, universities and public access locations, so Cuba must be planning a faster, more comprehensive backbone and I imagine Huawei is involved.

ETECSA backbone diagram, date/status unknown, source: Nearshore America

Huawei equipment was also used in the recent installation of 35 WiFi hotspots across the island. Since they claim the access points will support 50-100 simultaneous users at 1 Mb/s speed, these 35 locations must connect to the national backbone network. While 35 access points are a drop in the bucket, Cuba is committed to adding more. Counting WiFi, "navigation rooms," Youth Clubs and hotels, there are now 683 public access points in Cuba, all of which reach the backbone.

Huawei WiFi antennae

In addition to expanding public access and the backbone, they plan to make DSL connectivity available to 50% of Cuban homes by 2020. (Note that that is not to say 50% of Cuban homes will be online). Doing so will require new equipment in the telephone central offices serving those homes and Huawei will supply that equipment. Two other Chinese companies, ZTE and TP Link are providing DSL modems for network users. (ZTE has an office in Havana and may also be involved in the backbone network).

Home Internet: Huawei central office equipment and ZTE and TP Link modems

Cuba also has plans to connect all schools and make fiber connections to the backbone available to all universities. I don't know whose equipment will be used for those upgrades, but, if Huawei is the backbone vendor, I suspect that they would have the inside track on customer premises equipment (CPE). A recent market research report shows that Chinese CPE sales are growing rapidly, fueled by a large domestic market.

Lina Pedraza Rodríguez, Minister of Finance and Prices, said that Cuba is in
"very advanced" negotiations with Huawei, May 2015.

In spite of China's success in Cuba, all has not been perfect. As this Wikileaks memo from the US Interests Section in Havana shows, the Chinese have had some difficulty collecting Cuban debt. Cuba remains a tricky place to do business.

Finally, note that all of these sales are for equipment, not network operation. While Huawei has sold Cuba equipment, the backbone installation has been supervised by a Cuban engineer who has worked for Huawei since 2002 and Huawei does not seem to have an office in Cuba. Cuba bought Telecom Italia's share of ETECSA, Cuba's monopoly telecommunication company, in 2011 and remains independent. That may turn out to be a good or bad thing for the Cuban people, depending upon ETECSA's policy and goals.

It looks like China has won the first round. That's the bad news for US companies. The good news is that very little infrastructure has been sold so far and much of what has been sold and is planned for the near future is already obsolete by today's standards. That says there will be a much larger second round -- will the US be a player?

Update 10/10

A Cuban reader commented on Huawei's success in Cuba:
In early 2000 gradually they replaced all Cisco router by Huawei, including my office. probably today 95% of all routers in Cuba are Huawei, a "legacy" of Ramiro Valdez was minister, and the millions that Cuba spent in the "battle of ideas."
He also said that Huawei has had an office in the Miramar Trade Center in Havana for over ten years. (I could not find it using Google).

Note that Ramiro Valdés called the Internet "the wild stallion of the new technologies," which "could and should be controlled and used to serve peace and development" in spite of the fact that it construes one of the "mechanisms for global extermination."

If dealing with Huawei was politically motivated, the Interent infrastructure market may open in the future. (Some readers will claim that payoffs were involved, but I have no evidence one way or the other on that).

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Roundtable discussion: A society on the (long) road to informatization

The CUBA search engine is part of an effort to reduce dependence on foreign applications.

Wilfredo Gonzalez Vidal, Vice Minister of Communication is speaking. Can readers
identify the others?

A round table panel presentation on "A society on the road to informatization" was held on September 18. The following are a few of the more concrete points that were made.

Wilfredo Gonzalez Vidal, Vice Minister of Communication:
  • There are about 746 ATMs nationwide, in 53 of the 168 municipalities.
Mayra Arevich Marin, chief executive of ETECSA:
  • Connection speed to institutions of higher education has increased from 10-34 mbps. (Also see this post on university connectivity).
  • Counting navigation rooms, Youth Clubs and hotels, there are now 683 public access points in Cuba.
  • They will add more WiFi access points this year. She did not say how many, but did say they would be in nicer locations.
Reynaldo Rosado, vice president of the University of Information Science:
  • Students are working on the development of 128 software and service projects.
  • 13,500 young people have graduated from UCI.
Anamaris Solórzano Chacón, national director of institutional communication for the Youth Computer Club:
  • Cuban search engine CUBA (Contenidos Unificados de Búsqueda Avanzada) was launched in July this year.
  • Ecured, which was launched in December 2010, has more than 140,000 items and 200,000 hits daily. (It is also distributed on DVD and flash.
  • The Reflejos blog platform now has 6,500 blogs and over 5,000 visits a day.
For me, the most interesting statement was by Anamaris Solórzano Chacón. When speaking of the CUBA search engine, she said it was part of an effort to reduce dependence on foreign applications.

As long as very few Cubans have access to the international Internet, it makes sense to offer their own services on the domestic intranet. But, if Cuba opens to the international Internet, as they say they will, their local services will be redundant and unable to scale and compete. Ecured will never be Wikipedia, Reflejos will never be Blogger and CUBA will never even be Bing, let alone Google Search.

China is large enough that, for political and economic reasons, they can sustain domestic versions of popular Internet services, but Cuba is not. I understand and admire the desire to be self-sufficient, but it really isn't feasible in this case. As the saying goes -- "do what you do best and link to the rest." They should invest in uniquely Cuban services.

Verizon roaming in Cuba -- much ado about not much

While Verizon customers may be able to make $2.99 per minute 2G calls, it seems their $2.05 per megabyte data service will be limited to few locations.

President Obama is continuing to use executive powers to nibble away at the embargo. Some US companies will be allowed to establish Cuban offices and Verizon has announced that they will offer roaming in Cuba.

Verizon's roaming rates will be steep -- $2.99 per minute for calls and $2.05 per megabyte for data. Most of Verizon's roving customers will be non-Cubans, so we should not read to much into the prices, but one wonders what Verizon's split with ETECSA is and whether this foreshadows ETECSA's strategy.

ETECSA's policy is a key unknown in predicting the future of the Internet in Cuba. If their goal is to maximize profit, their monopoly position will inevitably lead to high prices, conservative infrastructure investment and poor service. A goal of maximizing government revenue would do the same.

Reader Ray Rodriquez has raised another interesting question -- how does ETECSA plan to handle the data? At those prices and with relatively few users, I doubt that the volume of data will be a problem, but what about connectivity and coverage?

We have been speculating on the Cuban backbone, and have concluded that there must be connectivity from each city with a WiFi access point to the cable landing at the east end of the island since almost 100% of Cuba's international traffic is now routed over the cable.

But how many of ETECSA's cell towers are able to reach the backbone? How many are able to handle even 3G data? Looking at Cuba's annual ICT statistical report, we see that the percent of the population with (predominantly 2G) cell phone coverage has barely increased since 2010 and it has been flat at 85.3 percent since 2012.

While Verizon customers may be able to make $2.99 per minute 2G calls, it seems their $2.05 per megabyte data service will be limited to few locations.

Like the Netflix offering, this is a symbolic start, but, as we have seen -- in a nation with nearly no Internet access, a little bit gets a lot of hype.

Update 9/19/2015

More on the executive easing of embargo restrictions.

Monday, September 14, 2015

El paquete update -- Cuba's largest private employer?

For several years, I've been tracking Cuba's "paquete semenal," a weekly distribution of entertainment, software, games, news, etc. on portable hard disks and flash drives.

I've noted that the compilation and distribution of the material is well organized and complete, leading to speculation that it is run by the Cuban government -- it generates revenue, provides jobs and acts as an "opiate of the masses" -- who needs the Internet when you have el paquete? (There is precedent -- there used to be a government storefront in Havana where one could bring floppy disks and get copies of the latest software releases).

Even if the government does not run el paquete, they turn a blind eye to its very visible advertising and distribution. In return, the package (like the illegal local area networks) does not include any politically sensitive material.

ABC News reports that el paquete is Cuba's number one private employer, bringing in $4 million a month.

They do not cite their sources, but it is not an outlandish claim. I don't know how many people are employed in the private sector, but, considering the goofy list of jobs that are eligible for self employment, it is believable that this popular, ubiquitous service could be the leading private employer.

And $4 million a month does not sound like a lot of revenue for such a widespread operation. According to the ABC report, terabyte hard drives with the week's material are delivered to customer's homes for 5 CUC (about $6.50). The subscriber copies as much as he or she wants and the drive is picked up the next day. That subscriber may in turn distribute material to others on flash drives or their own portable hard disks.

Elio Hector Lopez, who claims to be the head of el paquete, described a different price structure in a Forbes interview:
Most customers get the drive at home, where they exchange it for last week’s drive and the equivalent of $1.10 to $2.20. (Distributors selling to other distributors charge ten times as much.)
Regardless, $4 million seems plausible. Lopez went on to say that the original founding group had broken up, but evaded the interviewer's questions about operational details.

The following video gives a view of the distribution of el paquete:

It includes an interview of "Dany Paquete" (shown above), a 26-year old "who looks more like a lazy college sophomore than a kingpin of a national blackmarket of pirated media." He is one of two competing national distributors in Havana.

The documentary does not disclose details on the gathering of information, but suggests that editors in Miami and Havana select movies, music, etc. each week.

Dany sounds more like an MBA business man than a drug dealer and is unafraid to appear on camera. The Cuban government clearly tolerates el paquete. Even if officials are not being paid off, it satisfies many consumers, making them less likely to press for open Internet access. Had he been writing today, Karl Marx would have said "el paquete is the opium of the masses."

I recently had an opportunity to ask a senior State Department spokesman whether el paquete copyright violation had come up during discussions with the Cubans and he said "no," but the agenda of Bilateral Commission includes discussion of claims for damages. The focus will no doubt be on Cuban claims for damages resulting from the embargo and US claims for nationalized property -- might that be stretched to include "Orange is the New Black?"

Update 11/25/2015

A recent news report sheds light on the economics of el paquete distribution. It features the video shown below -- an interview of an anonymous distributor of el paquete to end users. He pays $2 a week for the paquete and the price he charges his customers is a function of the amount of data they copy. For example, eight Gbytes costs 10 Cuban pesos, about 50 cents. To become a distributor, he had to invest in a computer -- an old tower PC -- and portable external hard drives.

Distributing el paquete is a side job. He earns about $32 a month, which he uses to buy extra food -- and he sees the latest episode of his favorite TV shows.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Friday, September 4, 2015

In a nation with nearly no Internet access, a little bit gets a lot of hype.

In mid June, Cuba announced a plan to provide public access at 35 WiFi hotspots. As we noted, 35 WiFi hotspots is a drop in the bucket for a nation with over 11 million people, yet they have received a lot of press coverage.

A Google search found 651 articles with all of the words Cuba, WiFi and 35 in the title since mid June when we reported the story. Google finds over a million hits for stories with those words anywhere in the post and virtually all major news outlets -- from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal and Fox News covered the WiFi roll-out.

The same thing happened when ETECSA began offering public access to the Internet in "navigation rooms," when they announced a plan to make outdated DSL service available to half of the Cuban homes and when a Cuban artist called Kcho opened a single WiFi access point at his studio.

Cuban artist Kcho received world-wide attention for a single WiFi hotspot.

In a recent Havana Times post, Irina Echarry paints a realistic picture of the "Many Unsolved Problems of Cuba’s Wi-Fi Hot Zones" -- the overcrowding, long lines, discomfort, lack of privacy, cost, danger, etc. I am happy to see Cuba take a few halting steps toward a modern, open Internet, but, as Echarry shows us, the reality does not justify the hype.

Update 9/14/2015

The hype continues as Raúl Casto and Panama's president Juan Carlos Varela visit Kcho's studio. I wonder if President Obama would stop by for a photo op if I were to open my home WiFi router for use by people in my front yard? After all, I have a much faster connection to the Net than Kcho.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The short and long term future of the Cuban Internet

I gave a talk on the short and long term future of the Cuban Internet at the Conference of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

For the short run, I talked about things that are announced and underway -- expansion of public access and connecting schools, universities and homes as well as the possibility of satellite as an unlikely, but feasible means of interim connectivity.

I pointed out several characteristics of these short run projects -- they rely on a backbone network, China has been the preferred vendor nation so far and the quantity and quality of connectivity are far short of what we experience in developed nations. Even with the currently planned expansion, the Cuban Internet will remain in the 1990s.

For the long term, I pointed out that Cuba has the opportunity to skip technology generations and consider things like low-earth orbiting satellite, 5G wireless and advances in short range wireless.

That being said, long run policies regarding infrastructure ownership and regulation are more important than long run technology options. I suggested several ownership/regulation paradigms found around the world today and I encourage Cuba to consider them carefully.

In the middle of the talk, I took a brief digression to point out that two of the presenters in my session had been instrumental in bringing the Internet to Cuba and a third pioneer was in the audience.

When does the "long term" begin? It's a vague term, but by 2020 we will have a new Cuban government, the US embargo may be history and the Cuban economy will hopefully have improved significantly. Cuba should be in a better position to build a modern Internet by then.

The presentation consists of 26 slides in the style I prefer -- an image with a few words, accompanied by notes and annotation. The annotation both explains the point the slide is making and provides links to sources and more information. You can download the PowerPoint presentation here.

Here are a couple of the slides:

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Cuban ICT statistics report for 2014

Cuba's National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) has released their annual report of selected information and communication technology (ICT) indicators, including the following table of physical indicators:

They report that the number of Internet users is over 3 million, but must be including people who access the domestic intranet in that total. There are only 533,900 connected computers, so each one is shared by around 5.6 people. Not only are the users sharing computers, the connections are much slower than we are used to in developing nations. (I don't know how they count smart phone access).

It's also interesting to look at percent changes over time:

We see that the percent of the population with cell coverage has been nearly unchanged since 2010 and completely unchanged since 2012. Evidently, they are no longer expanding the 2G cell network. Presumably, the next deployment will be 4 or 5G. The number of cell phones is growing, but they do not differentiate between modern smart phone/computers and 2G flip and candy-bar phones. Growth in the number of .cu domain names has slowed compared to last year, but it is still substantial, indicating increasing organizational use.

Growth in the number of computers and the number of phone minutes has slowed relative to last year:

Both may be related to the Internet -- people are buying smart phones instead of computers and using Internet applications to make voice over IP calls.

Finally, ONEI reported that there are 1,264,817 fixed phone lines, of which 967,963 are residential. That puts the goal of having DSL service available to 50% of Cuban homes by 2020 in perspective. In addition to installing DSL equipment in central offices, many of these phone lines may have to be upgraded. The number of central offices increased from to 688 to 740 -- perhaps the new ones are already equipped for DSL service.

You can see coverage of previous ONEI ICT reports here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Leaked documents

Carlos Alberto Pérez publishes leaks -- "Chirileaks" -- on his blog La Chringa de Cuba. Two leaks pertaining to the Internet were one on Cuba's national broadband plan and another on ETECSA's plan for home connectivity.

Cuba is not known for kindness to dissidents, so one wonders why Pérez still has his job, not to mention his freedom. The answer might be that these are intentional leaks -- letting the world and the Cuban people know that Cuba is paying attention to the Internet and plans to improve things. Cuba has declared the Internet a priority and these leaks lend credence to that claim.

Anonymous quotes, "trial balloons" and government leaks are common in the US and Cuba may be doing the same. Regardless, Pérez is giving us interesting information and I hope the Chirileaks keep coming.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Speculation on the Cuban Internet backbone

Since the earliest days of the Internet, Cuba has stressed geographically distributed connectivity, unlike most developing nations, which focused on one or a few large cities. That policy is still in effect. There are plans to connect universities, schools and homes and there are already public WiFi hotspots and and Internet-access rooms in every province. (Of the original 118 public access rooms, only 12 were in Havana).

A backbone network covering the length of the island is necessary to achieve such geographically dispersed connectivity and, since essentially all of Cuba's international traffic is now routed over the undersea cable connection at the east end of the island, there must already be a backbone network connecting the provinces. The provision of 1 mbps international connectivity at the new WiFi hotspots is further evidence of a backbone.

I know nothing of the architecture or technology (fiber and wireless?) of today's backbone, but the load is very light compared to a future with planned traffic from homes, schools, universities and public access locations, so Cuba must be planning a high speed backbone.

We got a very hazy view of that plan in a Cuban market research study, which was just published by Nearshore America. The report includes diagrams of the three-phase backbone plan shown below:

These diagrams are attributed to ETECSA, but they have been substantially redrawn to protect the identity of the person who supplied them. While the legend on each slide shows 2 fixed and 9 reconfigurable multiplexers, I suspect that refers to the final phase. Similarly, I am guessing that "12 OLA" refers to optical wavelengths in each network link, but that is just a guess. The author of the Nearshore report was not told the time schedule for the phases.

I'd be curious to know a lot more, like who is designing and installing the backbone and who is supplying the equipment -- for example, are those Huawei multiplexers?

The one thing these images show us is that ETECSA is indeed planning a fiber backbone network.

Uodate 8/20/2015

@yawnboy sent me a link to material releasesd by Edward Snowden showing that the NSA was thinking of installing back doors in Huawei routers in 2010.

An NSA presentation included this slide:

The text note accompanying the slide reads in part:
Many of our targets communicate over Huawei produced products, we want to make sure that we know how to exploit these products - we also want to ensure that we retain access to these communication lines, etc.
I'm offering this in jest, but it would have been ironic if Cuba had installed Chinese routers with NSA backdoors.

Update 8/28/2015

Reader Ed Francis sent me a link to a 2005 post on Chinese companies in Cuba. The author visited the offices of several Chinese companies, including that of Huawei. The following is a Google Translate version of his observation:
Huawei to enter the Cuban market in 2000, when the company won the bid in an international tender Huawei Cuban government for the construction of a national fiber transmission network are conducted. Although the company is currently in Cuba only two market development officer and six engineers responsible for technical support, but Huawei's products have entered the all Cuban existing telecommunications.

Huawei's office, Interim Head of Cuban Mr. Humberto said Cuba telecom market competition is very fierce, before the market is mainly occupied by Alcatel, Ericsson and other large companies in Europe, I would like to win the market from their hands share of easier said than done. However, with a strong technical strength and highly competitive prices, Huawei has basically heard from a Cuban company became a pivotal role in the market. Cuba Telekom AG is the only company operating fixed telephone service, the total investment in 2004 to purchase 30% of Huawei's products.
It sounds like he is saying that Huawei won a bid for the construction of a fiber backbone in 2000. No details are given, but I wonder if that may be referring to the network pictured above.

The article also says Huawei has an office with two market development officers (salesmen?) and six engineers, headed by a Cuban, Mr. Humberto. (It is my understanding that Chinese infrastructure projects are typically run and staffed by Chinese, which would make this an exception).

I checked on the Huawei and Cuban Chamber of Commerce Web sites, and there is no listing for a Huawei office in Cuba today; however, ZTE does have an office in Havana. (ZTE sold ETECSA 5,000 home modems for the planned DSL rollout and may also be seeking to sell backbone equipment).

Update 8/31/2015

Ed Francis has continued his detective work. On LinkedIn, he found that Jorge Rivero Loo has, since 2008, supervised the implementation and technical support of the optical backbone network outlined above. The network uses Huawei equipment and Mr. Rivero has worked for them since 2002. Before that, he worked for ETECSA and studied at Jarcov University (in Russia?) and CUJAE.

Have US firms missed the boat?

Update 9/8/2015

Ed Francis has turned up more evidence of Huawei equipment -- a Cubatel photo gallery from 2008. Here is one of the photos, along with its caption:

A second photo refers to speeds of 2 and 34 Mb/s:

This facility is referred to as a "node on the national fiber optic network," and, given the year and speeds, I suspect this equipment may have served a metropolitan area network -- perhaps in Havana?

Update 9/21/2015

Jon Williams, @WilliamsJon, and Michael Weissenstein, @mweissenstein, demonstrated the existence of the high-speed backbone between Havana and the undersea cable landing when they discovered that extra bandwidth had been allocated to access points used by journalists during the Pope's visit:

64 Mb/s from a mobile connection

100 Mb/s from a wired PC