Friday, December 2, 2016

Wishful thinking -- Google Fiber in Havana

Might ETECSA, Cuba's government-monopoly telecommunication company, collaborate with Google to provide connectivity in Havana? This post offers conjecture, but it is informed conjecture.

Consider the following:
  • When Google Fiber started in Kansas City, most people assumed that it was a demonstration project, intended to spur investment by the incumbent US Internet service providers (ISPs). Few thought that Google wanted to become a retail ISP.
  • Google Fiber garnered a lot of publicity and Google, began speaking of it as a real, profit-making business. They announced other cities and started laying fiber in some of them.
  • Last June, Google bought Webpass, a small ISP that deploys fiber and was experimenting with unproven, but perhaps revolutionary pCell wireless technology from Artemis Networks. I speculated that they might be thinking of shifting Google Fiber to a hybrid fiber-wireless model based on that acquisition and other experiments they were conducting.
  • Last October Google Fiber announced that their work would continue in cities where they had launched or were under construction, but they would "pause operations and offices" in cities in which they had been conducting exploratory discussions and they took many, but not all workers off the Google Fiber project.
  • Google's Project Link has installed wholesale fiber backbones in two African capitals and I have suggested and speculated that they might do the same in Havana (with the caveat that they do it in conjunction with ETECSA, since there are no competing retail ISPs in Cuba as there are in Africa).
  • Google fiber backbones in Kampala and Accra
  • Last July ETECSA announced that they would be running a fiber trial in parts of Old Havana. They did not specify if it was fiber to the premises or neighborhood.
  • A month ago, a friend told me that a friend of his who worked at ETECSA said the fiber trial would begin December 5.
  • Last week, Trump threatened to "terminate the deal" (whatever that means to him) if Cuba would not make it better.
  • Yesterday, nearly identical stories suggesting that the White House was pushing Cuba on deals with Google and General Electric were published in the Wall Street Journal and El Nuevo Herald.

That is all for real -- now for the conjecture ...

Maybe the trial in Old Havana will be a joint project between Google and ETECSA. Google has considerable fiber installation experience with Project Link in Africa and Google Fiber in the US. A joint project with ETECSA would be relatively simple because they would not have to deal with competing ISPs as in Africa or lawsuits and other obstacles from incumbent ISPs as in the United States.

It could either be a pilot experiment -- a trial -- or the first step in leapfrogging Havana's connectivity infrastructure. One can imagine Google installing a fiber backbone in Havana like they have done in Accra and Kampala and leaving it up to ETECSA to connect premises using a mix of fiber, coaxial cable and wireless technology.

If that were to happen, Havana could "leapfrog" from one of the worst connected capital cities in the world to a model of next-generation technology. If things went well in Havana, which city would be next?

The partnership between Google and ETECSA could take many forms. Google might supply expertise and capital and ETECSA could supply labor and deal with the Cuban and Havana bureaucracies.

In return, Google would get terrific publicity, a seat at the table when other Cuban infrastructure like data centers or video production facilities were discussed and more users to click on their ads. (Take that Facebook). Havana could also serve as a model and reference-sell for cooperation between Google and other cities. (Take that Comcast and AT&T). There might even be some revenue sharing, with ETECSA paying Google as the ISPs do in Africa.

This would also be a win for the US administration and President Obama's legacy. Trump says he wants to renegotiate "the deal" with Cuba. If so, he would find Google (and GE?) at the negotiating table along with US airlines, telephone companies, hotel chains, cruise lines, etc.

Again -- this is conjecture ... but would the Wall Street Journal print something if it were not more than a rumor -- perhaps something leaked by the White House?

A Google-ETECSA collaboration in Old Havana?

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Update 12/7/2016

Well, it looks like my conjecture was off base. December 5th has come and gone without an announcement of the fiber trial in Havana with or without Google's participation.

The US-Cuba Bilateral Commission met today and their press release enumerated considerable progress in several areas, but said nothing about deals with Google or other companies.

An article in OnCuba says that agreements were reached with Google, General Electric, Goodyear, Caterpillar and Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Pearl Seas Cruises. It restates that Cubans have access to the Play Store and mentions their collaborated on Kcho's WiFi hotspot, but it says nothing about more connectivity or collaboration with ETECSA.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cuban ICT statistics report for 2015

I look at the ICT statistics reported anually by ONEI, the Cuban Office of statistics and information, every year. This year's report has been out for a while, but I have been too focused on the impact of the Internet on the US election and its aftermath to look at it until now.

This table shows the Internet-related statistics from the latest report:


And this table shows the percent changes over the years:


The first thing that jumps out is a 28% increase in the number of number of users of Internet services, while the number of computers connected to the net is up by only 2.3%. That means either many more people are sharing computers or they are reporting apples and oranges. While I am sure many people use shared land-line computers to access the net at work or school, the count of users of Internet services must include users who bring their own portable devices to public-access WiFi hotspots.

Furthermore, they combine the number of users with international Internet access and those whose access is restricted to the domestic Cuban intranet. Users at public-access locations can reach most, but not all, of the Internet since the Cuban government and some US companies block some sites and services. I frequently see it stated that 5% of Cubans have international Internet access, but have never seen any data to support that arbitrary number.

Finally, we must remember that the experience of a Cuban Internet or intranet user is not the same as that in most other nations -- connections are slow and unreliable and the cost is extremely high.

We also note that the number of .cu domains has remained essentially flat for two years, probably an indication that most new Cuban Internet sites and services are being registered as .com, .es, etc. I suspect that most new .cu registrations are by government agencies or enterprises, but have no data to support that. I also wonder if some change in Cuban law caused the .cu registration to drop precipitously in 2014.

The report also covers telephone service. Only one new central office was added this year, bringing the total to 741 (689 digital). That is relevant to the Internet because a plan that was leaked in 2015 said that by 2020, Internet connectivity using DSL technology would be available to 50% of Cuban homes. (Note that they say connectivity would be available, but do not project prices or say that 50% of homes would subscribe).

For that to occur, the equipment in central offices must be upgraded and/or phone wires running to many homes replaced. This report says nothing about either and we can not be sure that the plan is being executed. Regardless, if it is carried out, the DSL speeds will be slow. DSL is a poor technology choice, especially in a nation with old telephone wiring.

Cuba should look at other options for home connectivity, and there is an indication that they are doing so in a fiber trial that is expected to begin in Havana this month. (A friend told me it would start on December 5 -- stay tuned).

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Update 12/4/2016

Professor Armando Camacho has posted his analysis of the latest ONEI ICT statistics report (in Spanish). He comments critically on the report and also discusses Cuban ICT statistics in context by comparing them to those of other nations.

He has followed up with an online survey of Cuban Internet users, which you are invited to complete.






Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Would you like to write a post for this blog? ¿Le gustaria publicar en este blog?

Would you like to write a guest post for this blog? I've had a couple of recent guest posts and would welcome others. It may be an original contribution or something you have published previously. You may write in English or Spanish (or both) and you may write anonymously if you wish. The topic must be relevant to the Cuban Internet -- its technology, applications or implications for individuals, organizations or society.

¿Le gustaria publicar en este blog? He recibido algunas pocas contribuciones en el pasado y me gustaria recibir mas. Puede ser una contribución original o algo que haya publicado anteriormente. Usted puede escribir en inglés o español (o en ambos) y puede escribir anónimamente si lo desea. El tema tiene que ver con la Internet Cubana -- su tecnologia, applicaciones o la manera en que la red ha afectado a individuos, organizaciones o a la sociedad.

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Update 12/4/2016

Armando Camacho has offered to forward guest contributions to this blog for those who do not have Internet access. Gracias, amigo!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Internet in Cuba

Guest post by Cuban professor Armando Camacho Costales
(http://huxley.cubava.cu/)

Nearly two years after December 17th, Cuban youth are aware of the Internet -- the genie is out of the bottle -- but access remains severely limited and slow. It is clear that the Internet will impact individuals, organizations and society in ways we can not predict, and that generates fear, but Armando looks forward to universal access. He is confident that the Internet will lead to "creative destruction."


Precedentes

Casi dos años del 17 de diciembre uno de los cambios más evidentes y de mayor impacto en la vida cotidiana del cubano ha sido la posibilidad de acceder a la INTERNET. En toda la geografía nacional se ha incorporado al paisaje urbano y rural cientos de jóvenes con sus portátiles, tabletas, teléfonos inteligentes “navegando por la internet”. Pero la mayoría de esos jóvenes aún pueden hacer la distinción entre estar “on-line” y “off-line”.

Narraba Kafka: “A partir de cierto punto en adelante no hay regreso. Es el punto que hay que alcanzar”. Ese es el punto de no retorno que hay que alcanzar en la INTERNET en Cuba; cuando nuestros jóvenes no sepan distinguir entre estar “conectados” o “desconectados”.

Limitaciones

La INTERNET no está exenta de limitaciones. ETECSA es un monopolio. El único proveedor de servicios de INTERNET en Cuba (ISP, por sus siglas en inglés). El único proveedor de telefonía fija y móvil, local y de larga distancia, la que despliega, administra y gestiona la totalidad de las redes de telecomunicaciones cubanas. Además de otros variados servicios. ETECSA impone precios de monopolio que nada tienen que ver con la dinámica de la oferta o la demanda; ejemplo: 10 horas de conexión a la INTERNET equivalen a 20 CUC o 500 CUP, el 85.6% del salario medio mensual nacional del año 2014 según las cifras oficiales de la ONEI.

ETECSA posee estándares de calidad en la prestación de dichos servicios ISP que pueden ser considerados medios o bajos si los comparamos con naciones latinoamericanas como Chile, República Dominicana o Ecuador; resulta común que la conectividad a la INTERNET desde sus salas de navegación NAUTA (fija) o puntos WIFI (móviles) se vea afectada por una variedad de problemas técnicos o de infraestructura, incluso hasta de gestión y administrativos.

Las condiciones de infraestructura en las Salas de Navegación son bien pobres. Un ejemplo, en el Tele Punto Comercial, ubicado en la transitada calle Obispo, necesitas hacer una “cola” de una hora para adquirir una tarjeta para conectarte, después otra media hora para acceder a la Sala de Navegación. De las doce estaciones de trabajo solo están en servicio cinco, de estas cinco dos tienen defectuosos los puertos USB, el teclado es ilegible, los navegadores están desactualizados o no tienen instalados todos los componentes necesarios que te permitan visualizar, descargar o gestionar las facilidades con que cuenta la Red. Lo mismo ocurre con los puntos de acceso WIFI.


Finalmente accedes, comienza a transcurrir el tiempo esta vez ya con el precio de ETECSA, una hora “on-line” por dos pesos cubanos convertibles; para enfrentarnos a mensajes cómo estos:


Entonces enfrentas otra de las limitaciones de la Red en Cuba. La imposibilidad de acceder a la totalidad de la INTERNET. Solo tienes acceso a una versión de la Red, una INTERNET (re)definida y controlada por visiones censuradas y (re)construidas por una diplomacia electrónica, el dilema del dictador o una “neoguerra fría” fraguada esta vez en nuestros campos de batallas virtuales.

Entendimientos y anarquías

En cuanto a la interpretación del presente y a la proyección del futuro de la INTERNET en Cuba; y, como punto de partida prefiero enfocarme en la famosa frase de Eric Schmidt:
Internet es la primera cosa que la humanidad ha creado y que la humanidad no entiende, el mayor experimento de anarquía que hemos tenido.
La frase de Schmidt tiene total vigencia en la Cuba de Hoy. Estamos confrontando esas múltiples confrontaciones entre “entendimientos” y “anarquías” de ese experimento llamado INTERNET; y no solo a nivel técnico o académico, sino a nivel de toda una sociedad.

Los debates actuales que se producen en torno a la libertad de prensa en la Isla, el periodismo, los medios de información, el acceso a la información son consecuencia directa de una sociedad que se acomoda e intenta “entender esa anarquía”. Concebir en nuestra “vita activa” nacional la “libertad de INTERNET”.

“Entender esa anarquía” conlleva a enormes esperanzas de cambios pero también comporta diversas actitudes e inquietudes sociales, políticas, culturales y económicas. Pues afecta los paradigmas económicos, sociales y políticos.

Por cuestiones profesionales conozco del impacto y las correlaciones del despliegue de las tecnologías de la información y las comunicaciones (ICT por sus siglas en inglés) en el crecimiento del Producto Interno Bruto o en otras variables económicas como pueden ser la productividad, el trabajo, la movilidad laboral... Pero la INTERNET es mucho más, ya que genera una dinámica otra en aspectos menos tangibles como la propia inteligencia humana, el funcionamiento de sus redes neuronales, la percepción de bienestar en las personas y la colectividad, las relaciones interpersonales y sociales, la cultura y nuestra propia visión como especie de nuestro mundo.

Temores y fantasías- Sociedad en Red

Según un estudio publicado por Martin Hilbert en la revista Science en 2010, el 95% de toda la información existente en el planeta está digitalizado y en su mayor parte accesible desde la INTERNET.

El acceso del 50% de la población para el año 2020 resulta una meta aceptable, pero no suficiente. Una meta aceptable y suficiente sería que el 90% de los cubanos accedan a ese 95% de toda la información humana digitalizada. Ahora.

Ese ahora será nuestro reto. La (re)construcción de un dialogo nacional y multidisciplinario para definir y establecer las políticas indispensables con los instrumentos técnicos, legales, sociales, económicos y políticos necesarios para maximizar el valor único que tiene la INTERNET como herramienta de colaboración y cooperación, como instrumento difusor de conocimientos y pluralidad, como motor generador de libertades y conexiones, como experiencia de educación e innovación, facilitadora para establecer redes digitales y humanas que nos dignifiquen. Para que por igual individuos como la sociedad en su conjunto expandir y explorar todas sus posibilidades. Nuestro reto es definir y establecer nuestra Cuba en Red. Ahora…

Una mayor penetración de las ICT y de las redes fijas y móviles y de la infraestructura necesaria que facilite un mayor y mejor acceso de la INTERNET para un aprovechamiento de todas sus potencialidades por parte de una población con altos índices de educación y altas expectativas sociales y económicas, facilidades para importar tecnología, políticas que promuevan la red de dominio .cu con contenidos educativos, comerciales, entretenimiento, desarrollados por emprendedores cubanos y las instituciones y empresas nacionales.

Escribía Manuel Castells por allá por el lejano 2009:
Poder y contrapoder, relaciones fundamentales en la sociedad, se estructuran en la mente humana mediante la construcción de significado y mediante el procesamiento de la información de acuerdo a unos determinados valores e intereses.
Desde la aparición del concepto Sociedad en Red la propia conectividad a la INTERNET resulta un poderoso instrumento de comunicación y una efectiva y autónoma organización colaborativa para contraponerse a los particulares intereses ideológicos y económicos y a todas las inercias que impidan la propia dinámica social de cambios.

En los próximos años asistiremos a la asimilación de esos valores e intereses mediante la asimilación no solo de información sino de una redefinición de nuestros propios significados como individuos y sociedad en transición. Dinámica de cambios que promueve un acceso al enorme reservorio de experiencias humanas que es la INTERNET.

Asistimos en Cuba a la “destrucción creativa” teorizada por los economistas de la Escuela de Viena. De ahí que los cambios en nuestros paradigmas de comunicación y la dinámica social resulten tan significativos y relevantes cuando analizamos el impacto que el acceso a la INTERNET tiene sobre Cuba.

El propio Manuel Castells concluye su ensayo:
Una tecnología de comunicaciones digitales que ya es una segunda piel para los jóvenes, mientras que, por otro lado, alimenta los temores y las fantasías de los que siguen gobernando una sociedad que ya apenas comprenden.


Monday, October 17, 2016

El Internet que hay en Cuba

A guest post by Damián Fernández Suárez
(internet1.cubava.cu)



Blogger Damián Fernández Suárez has written a guest post for laredcubana. He discusses three ways Cubans access the net and describes an old hack.


Decir que “en Cuba hay internet” pudiera resultar una frase contradictoria, a pesar de las dos décadas de haberse realizado la conexión definitiva a internet, solo personal del gobierno y muy pocas instituciones tienen el privilegio de acceder a este servicio en todo su esplendor, demonizando ese término hasta hacerlo casi inalcanzable,  para muchos es una quimera acceder a un lugar donde se encuentre un equipo conectado a la red, dada las fuertes medidas que imponen las reglas de seguridad informática, todo esto en instituciones del estado donde no tiene costo alguno, únase a ello el fuerte criterio que siempre existió fueras de las fronteras del país de que no existía internet dentro de la Isla, criterio que prevalece,  pero veamos las diferentes vías que usan los cubanos para romper con el mito.

ACCESO DESDE ORGANISMOS ESTATALES

En estos últimos tiempos, las universidades, los centros de salud y algunas empresas se han beneficiado con un programa de informatización subvencionado por el gobierno el cual pretende dar números positivos (pero verdaderamente fríos y nada creíbles) de conexión desde dentro de la isla, donde prevalece la palabra  “limitación" y la gran mayoría de estaciones de trabajo solo tienen acceso a sitios nacionales (intranet), los que corren con más suerte acceden a las 3 W (www) mediante un proxy, método este que permite identificar que usuario, PC que usan y que sitio visitan con regularidad, tomando represalias por ejemplo, si visitas páginas de corte crítico al gobierno, así que, los interesados en no perder el privilegio se limitan a entrar en alguna que otras redes sociales, autorizadas por la fuerte presión que ejerció la opinión pública en su momento, aun así exigen unirte a grupos agnadas al estado, y después de un “Viva Cuba” en cualquier perfil visible para todos puedes dedicarte a un poco de ocio y saludar algunas que otros amigos y familiares.

ACCESO TELEFÓNICO A REDES

Los accesos telefónicos se realizan específicamente a los organismos estatales que cuentan con este servicio, dígase el sector de la salud y universidades, son superlentas donde casi nunca alcanzan los 30 kbits/seg. por la anticuada infraestructura, es lo que más se parece a internet en las casas, pero no se engañe, existen diferentes variantes y muchas “made in Cuba”,  como aquellas que solo permiten acceso a un cliente web de correo que la bandeja de entrada ni siquiera puede recibir mensajes internacionales, hasta una conexión ENET, el cual cuesta unos 200 dólares por unas 200 horas al mes y solo autorizadas a extranjeros con residencia temporal en Cuba, nada que ver con la aspiración de los que devengamos un salario que ni siquiera se considera digno.


ACCESO PÚBLICO EN SALAS DE NAVEGACIÓN Y WIFI

Se trata de locales en el interior de ETECSA habilitados con computadoras personales que solo tienen acceso a un navegador desactualizado y sin posibilidad de softwares que permitan por ejemplo webcams o similares, para ello es necesario acceder a los espacios públicos de conexión WIFI, todo esto por 2 CUC la hora y por mucho, la más usada, y si eres  de los que se preguntarán si es la más cara… ¿como tanta gente puede acceder?, se dice que hasta unos 100 000 diarios, la respuesta está en cambiar el enfoque de la pregunta, no se trata de poder, sino de tener que usarla obligatoriamente pues es la única opción viable y relativamente menos costosa que otras prestaciones como por ejemplo hacer una llamada telefónica desde Cuba al exterior, es por ello que la Internet para muchos (definiendo el término) se trata la comunicación menos encarecida entre personas, sin saber, ni siquiera, que internet está llena de conocimientos y noticias que están disponibles en cuestiones de segundos.

INTERNET MEDIANTE ROAMING

La conexión a internet mediante Roaming, aunque se crea sea nuevo, es un suceso que viene ocurriendo desde hace más de 7 años, redes europeas fueron pioneras en este sentido acordando este servicio con Cuba, algunos visitantes dejaron sus líneas a familiares para facilitar el envío de SMS que por aquel tiempo costaba 1 CUC cada uno (ahora 0.60 CUC), pero los más avezados descubrieron métodos para encontrar conectividad sin ningún costo. Estas fueron limitándose cada vez más hasta prácticamente dejar de existir, hasta que algunas líneas canadienses y ahora recientemente americanas devuelven la idea, aunque con cierta cuantía.

De que hay internet, hay… y de eso deberían estar orgullosos los que se vanaglorian de decir que estamos conectados, lo que el orgullo debería caer al piso cuando intentaran explicar a qué costo. Yo aún vivo en Cuba, de los derechos que aún se oye hablar es el de la salud, la educación… etc, una pretérita oratoria que no deja de retumbar en nuestras mentes y que nos mutilan las ansias de decir y crecer, pero a mi juicio, nos están despojando del derecho al conocimiento y ya es hora de cambiar la mentalidad.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

An annotated presentation on the past, present and future of the Internet in Cuba

I recently made a presentation on the "past, present and future of the Cuban Internet." The presentation consisted of 27 annotated slides and many links. Here are the slides:


If it looks interesting, you can download a Word document with the slides and their notes and links here.

If you would like a PowerPoint version, it's here.

(The notes and links are a bit more complete in the Word version, but the slides are the same).

Thursday, September 15, 2016

US-Cuba diplomacy is picking up.

This is somewhat off the subject of this blog, but it seems that US-Cuba diplomacy might be picking up steam. It may be coincidence, but three meetings have been scheduled:
Perhaps the Obama administration is accelerating negotiations before they leave office.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Criticism is not subversive

"Write criticism, the party will support you."
Raúl Castro, addressing the union of Cuban journalists, March 1980.

Josefina Vidal, Director General of the Department of the United States at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tweeted that the Internet Freedom Conference next week is subversive -- "The illegal use of radio and television against Cuba is not enough for them, they insist on the use of the Internet as a weapon of subversion."

Her statement is based upon the fact that the conference is sponsored by the US government, but, if she would look beyond that, she would have a more nuanced view. (Note that I have been invited to participate in the conference and will have my travel expenses paid, but will not be compensated for the four days I spend).

For example, if she would read my blogs, reports and papers, she would see that I have been critical of the politics and Internet regulation and policies of both Cuba and the United States, but I am not trying to subvert either government. She would also see that I have recognized Cuban achievements and made many suggestions for improving Cuba's Internet infrastructure and policy. Whatever I have written or done has been pro-Internet, not anti-Cuban government.

As Cuban blogger Carlos Alberto Carlos Alberto Pérez said "I don't criticize to knock the system down. On the contrary, I criticize to perfect the system."

There are hard-liners in Cuba and the US, but after many years they seem to be following bureaucratic, party-line protocols, which call for rote repetition of tired sentences. I am confident that there are Cuban technicians and policy makers who realize the possibility of leapfrogging today's technology and policy just as there are many in the US who realize that our Cuba policy has been unproductive. It is time to look to the future.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Check out this report on Cuban digital media

Anne Nelson has written a report entitled Cuba’s Parallel Worlds: Digital Media Crosses the Divide. It is based on her earlier work in Cuba and a subsequent graduate seminar and field work in Cuba. The report is organized as follows:
  • Cuba’s Traditional Media
  • The Fiber Optic Cable: Cuba’s Big Little Bang
  • China’s Role
  • Enter the Americans
  • Who Makes Cuba’s Digital Policy?
  • Cuba’s Hacker Culture
  • Conclusion
The following are a few quotes that caught my eye:
  • "Cuba’s landlines, print culture, and broadcasting market have not only failed to advance beyond the mid-twentieth century standards, they have actually eroded."
  • "Cuba’s decades of news blackout will have a dramatic impact on the shape of the information culture in Cuba. It is entirely possible that Cuba could skip over the fact-based journalism models of the late twentieth century, straight into a digital maelstrom of rumor, data, marketing — and, somewhere amid the tumult—news." (See also William Davies' "post-truth news").
  • "Even as the regime’s controls appear to be loosening, its members have positioned themselves, their relations, and their supporters to reap the benefits." (This sounds a bit like the Russian transition -- Estonia provides a better model).
  • "Cuba has many features that make it an effective laboratory for ICT4D innovations: a highly literate, educated workforce; a manageable geography; and the urgent incentive of a broken system."
  • "We should not discount what the Cubans have to offer. Vast regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America struggle with erratic electrical grids and low bandwidth. The Cubans’ ingenious approach to offline apps might suggest solutions in these areas, just as Cuban doctors have proved helpful in low-resourced medical emergencies."
The report also shines a little light on the obscure production and distribution processes of El Paquete Semanal:
The production of the service is somewhat secretive. According to the Columbia research team, the content is downloaded by small teams across Cuba that receive passwords and usernames from the “Paquete owners,” who then pay to download content by the hour. The local managers download the content that will appeal to their specific audiences; university students might want to read the week’s New York Times, the Economist, and the BBC, while rural audiences might prefer South American telenovelas and variety shows. Most local managers download the content directly from the Internet, then copy and distribute it to a larger network that dispatches couriers to deliver it by public bus throughout the country. Customers pay around $2 to download the material to external disks and flash drives, often plugging them directly into a port on their flat screens; then returning for new content.
It also includes the following diagram, summarizing ETECSA's monopoly over all telephony and fixed and mobile Internet access:


My one question on the diagram has to do with the often quoted statement that ETECSA is entirely state owned. I am confused on the relationship of the state to the ETECSA stockholders and the division of decision making authority between ETECSA and the Ministry of Communication.

This post is the tip of the iceberg -- you should read the full report.

In addition to their field work, Nelson's students also compiled a project wiki, which is informative and also serves as a cool example of the use of the Internet for collaboration in education.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Impressions of the first Cuban Android community meetup

It would be great if Cuba could find a sustainable middle ground between the economy and culture of the early hobby and academic days and the dominance of money and advertising we have today in the US.

The first meeting of the Cuban Android community was held last Saturday. OnCuba Magazine reported on the meetup and you should read their coverage, but here are a couple of things I noticed:

The meetup was organized by the people who contribute to the TuAndroid blog, which they insist is not a blog, but a family.

The meetup tagline was "For a technological culture accessible to all."

Ailyn Febles, president of the Unión de Informáticos de Cuba, a State professional society with 8,000 members, called for an exchange between academia, state professionals and the non-state tech community.

TuAndroid founder Jorge Noris also called for cooperation between the state and non-state tech communities -- maybe this signals a policy change.

One of the speakers was Phillip Oertel, a Google engineer who worked on the Play Store. I was hoping he would say something about mirroring the Play Store on SNET or somewhere else in Cuba via, say, weekly batch updates, but evidently he did not. (It seems he is now working on a different project, Android Instant Aps, which, when launched, would be useful in a low-bandwidth nation like Cuba.

The meeting was held at the studio of the artist Kcho, which has a hands-on space with Google Chromebooks, Cardboard and phones, sponsored in part by Google. Kcho said his was a "space of sovereignty and freedom, which shows the daily struggle against the blockade" -- perhaps a necessary dollop of political correctness.

People helping each other after the formal talks

When the talks finished, there was an open session during which people helped each other -- answering questions, installing apps, upgrading Android, jailbreaking phones, etc. This sharing and assistance was done without charge and with a spirit of community building. It sounds like the days of the hobby computer clubs in the US. People helped each other freely and openly -- even the early businesses like Apple. The early academic and research days of the Internet felt the same.

It would be great if Cuba could find a sustainable middle ground between the economy and culture of the early hobby and academic days and the dominance of money and advertising we have today in the US.

Some related posts.

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Update 10/4/2016

Members of the independent Android community toured the headquarters of State-owned DESOFT and heard a talk sponsored by the Union of Information of Cuba. This might be further indication of progress toward cooperation and collaboration between independent and state software developers. I am far removed from Cuba to know, but, offhand, it seems like a step in the right direction.

Dr. Orestes Febles speaking at the conference

Monday, August 29, 2016

Si hablas mal de internet, Hablas mal del gobierno...

A guest post by Damián Fernández Suárez
(internet1.cubava.cu)

Criticism of the Cuban Internet is considered criticism of the government, which is not tolerated, and looks forward to a day when Cubans have connectivity at home without censorship and fear of disconnection.


Los contenidos referentes a la Internet en Cuba son tan espinosos que difícilmente encontramos espacios (sitios webs) dentro de la Isla que convoquen al debate directo y con criterios libres sobre lo que se piensa del tema en la actualidad. Tanto el especialista como los interesados en el tema que se atrevan a escribir en esta rama deben rebuscar palabras que no afecten los intereses de aquellos que ponen la tecnología (por ejemplo, blogs) en función de cualquier forma de hacer periodismo, no aceptando para ello críticas que crucen la línea que han hecho llamar lo admisible… ¿pero alguna vez se han preguntado por qué? 

Lo admisible en Cuba es propiciar mediante criterios un ambiente positivo de conectividad que disfrace la realidad, ya una vez que se aventuran en violar esta propuesta, entonces caes en lo que se denomina “comentarios molestos” a los que se le trata de aplicar el MUTE. Claro está, “ el poco internet que se distribuye entre las universidades y organismos estatales las administra el gobierno” y por tanto, si criticas la internet, su infraestructura, la forma en que se veda para el pueblo… estás criticando al mismo gobierno, y por mucho que se intente hacer creer que se respete la libertad de expresión o derechos universales, está bien claro que distamos mucho de vivir en un país que se respeten los “criterios molestos” y muchos menos se nos escuche como quisiéramos que fuera. De ser así, el tema de Internet para los Cubanos ya fuera historia.

Sé que un día llegará en que dispongamos en los hogares de este preciado servicio, y la desconexión será parte del pasado, y no tendrán sentido este sitio y otros donde se alzan las voces para pedir lo que nos pertenece, pero hasta entonces emitiré mis criterios como especialista en el tema.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

IBM's SoftLayer cloud infrastructure service blocks Cuba -- why now?

Cachivache Media recently reported that the Bitly URL-trimming service had stopped working in Cuba. Cubans had been using the service for several years, so this resulted in many broken links.

Cachivache did not know what had happened, but published a traceroute that timed out at an Akamai router. I contacted Akamai, and they said they could not say anything -- they would only talk with their customers -- Bitly in this case.

This traceroute from Cuba to Bitly times out in the Akamai network.

So I contacted Bitly and had an email exchange with one of their support people. (The press and operations departments failed to answer my emails and I could not find a phone number to call). This is a transcript of my email conversation with their support representative:

Larry: My colleagues in Cuba are unable to reach their bit.ly account. They say it failed some time ago, worked yesterday and is now broken again. I attach a traceroute.

Support: Unfortunately, Bitly links do not function correctly in Cuba. This is not an issue on our end – I believe that Cuba and Iran are both unable to access Bitly links, due to government regulations.

I wish I had more info! Let me know if you need help with anything else.

Larry: Cubans have been using Bitly for years and they are no longer on the list of state sponsors of terrorism -- it just recently became unreachable. It was back up for a day earlier in the week then went down again. There is some sort of intermittent failure.

Could you follow up with Akamai on this? Or, if it is a change in your company policy, could someone confirm that?

Support: Thanks for getting back to me. Unfortunately there is not much I can do here, we’ve had reported problems with our links in Cuba, and are working diligently to rectify the issue.

Larry: I am confused -- are you now saying that it is a technical issue rather than policy? If so, by when do you expect to rectify it? The traceroute times out at an Akamai router -- have you filed a help ticket with them?

Support: I wouldn’t necessarily say this is an issue on our end. We know that our links don’t always work in Cuba – we’re not in touch with the Cuban government about this however.

I really wish I had a better answer for you, but I don’t unfortunately! I hope you still find value in our free tool.

Larry: Are you doing it in compliance with a request of the US government? Is Akamai?

Support: As I mentioned, we’re aware of this issue, our engineers are aware and are working to solve the problem.

I can’t provide any more additional info at this time, I apologize for the inconvenience.

Well, that was inconsistent, but I guess a tech support person does not have authority to answer such questions.

Next, I heard from a friend in Cuba who told me it was not only Bitly -- other sites that used Bitly to trim their URLs were also blocked. Confused, I asked a colleague, Doug Madory, who monitors the Internet at Dyn Research, what he thought was going on. It turned out Doug had also been looking into this case. He told me the culprit was Softlayer, Bitly's hosting service, and that he would be providing more technical detail soon.

I checked with SoftLayer and the answer was on their Web site -- they block traffic from countries that are subject to U.S. trade and economic sanctions -- Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. The rationalle for the SoftLayer policy is found in a Commerce Department guidance document.

So, we know what happened, but the real question is "Why now?"

Did Bitly know Cuba and the other sanctioned nations would be cut off when they moved to SoftLayer? (It looks like Bitly moved rather recently).

It turns out that SoftLayer began blocking Iran (and presumably the other countries) last February. Was that triggered by SoftLayer (or parent company IBM) lawyers exercising caution or were they pressured to change by government officials? Are they applying for an exception to the sanction?

Regardless, cutting Cuba off seems inconsistent with the policy of the current US administration. The Commerce Department page on the sanctions refers to "the President’s policy to chart a new course in bilateral relations with Cuba and to further engage and empower the Cuban people, announced on December 17, 2014."

This change inconvenienced a lot of Cubans -- does the US Government really want to do that at that time? Sanctions like this are a blunt instrument -- harming "good guys" like Cuba's new, Internet media as well as "bad guys."

This incident also reminds us of the fragility of Internet applications with dependencies -- the company or service your application depends upon can change its price or terms of use or just turn it off as in this case.

I'll see if I can get a better answer to the question why now? and will let you know what Doug's analysis reveals, but for now, we at least know what happened.

-----
Update 8/9/2016

I've asked IBM and SoftLayer why they made the decision to start blocking Cuba in February. IBM said they had no comment and SoftLayer did not return my phone call or email. I asked Amazon Web Services -- another cloud hosting company -- whether they blocked Cuban traffic and did not receive an answer to my email or phone message. (At least IBM had the courtesy of telling me "no comment").

Hitting that blank wall, I did a Google search and learned that:
  • IBM acquired SoftLayer in 2013.
  • In September 2015, the Treasury and Commerce Departments announced amendments to the Cuba sanctions regulations. "These regulatory changes build on the revisions implemented earlier this year and will further ease sanctions related to travel, telecommunications and internet-based services, business operations in Cuba, and remittances." The announcement states the desire to loosen sanctions on telecommunications & Internet-based services in order to enhance "the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba, and better providing efficient and adequate telecommunications services between the United States and Cuba."
  • In January 2016, Treasury and Commerce announced further amendments to the Cuba sanctions regulations. Treasury Secretary Lew said "We have been working to enable the free flow of information between Cubans and Americans" and the announcement goes on to say that Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security "will generally approve license applications for exports and reexports of telecommunications items that would improve communications to, from, and among the Cuban people."
  • Shortly before President Obama's trip to Cuba in March 2016, a related announcement stated that "The Cuban assets control regulations currently authorize the importation of Cuban-origin mobile applications. The Office of Foreign Assets Control will expand this authorization to allow the importation of Cuban-origin software."

The administration has increasingly relaxed Cuban sanctions on telecommunication and Internet services. So, I am still wondering why, in February 2016, SoftLayer decided to start blocking Cuban traffic.

-----
Update 8/11/2016

Bitly CEO Mark Josephson has posted an article addressing the blocking of their site. He reiterates the fact that the decision to block Cuba was not their's and speaks in favor of an open Internet -- an "Internet you can see across," which has been a Bitly tagline since the company was founded.

He concludes that "We understand the rationale behind the rules in place from our partner and are working with them to change this. I’m confident that we’ll be able to address this with our partner, and if we can’t, we’ll try to find another way."

-----
Update 8/18/2016

Amazon Web Services and Rackspace allow Cuban traffic and Google Cloud Platform and IBM/SoftLayer block it. (All of them seem to be in similar businesses).

Iroko Alejo says Envato, Themeforest, Attlassian and Schema.org are also blocked.

Paypal allows remittances to Cuba, but they stopped a message accompanying a payment because it contained the word "Cuba." (I wonder what other words they filter for).

Reading the US policy statements on Cuban sanctions (above), it seems like the administration favors Internet communication with Cuba and would be unlikely to prosecute any of these companies for sanctions violations.

I wonder why some companies are more cautious than others.


-----
Update 8/27/2016

PayPal froze the account of Nathaniel Parish after he bought a Cuban cigar while he was in Mexico. In the article he summarizes the US administration policies on purchases of Cuban goods, which, like our communication policy, favors exchange.

Note that his purchase of Cuban cigars was legal.

-----
Update 8/29/2016

I have no way of estimating the number of Web sites blocked in Cuba, but we can get some idea of the number by looking at the numbers of Web sites hosted by known blockers Google and SoftLayer.

Builtwith.com tracks the number of sites served by hosting companies. Here are their current statistics for SoftLayer and Google:


As you see, Google hosts more than twice as many sites as SoftLayer, but SoftLayer hosts more of the top 10,000 sites than Google. (Follow the links above to interactive graphs of the history of these hosting platforms).

An interesting side note -- I was surprised at the amount of information Builtwith gathers on the hosted sites. For a fee, you can order a list of the sites hosted by a particular service along with the following data on each of their clients:
Domain name, Location on Site, Company, Vertical industry, Alexa and Quantcast statistics, phone numbers and email addresses, accounts on Twitter and nine other services, names, titles and email addresses of several employees and more.
For example, I could now give you information about 14 people who work for chronotrack.com.(but I won't).

Privacy is indeed dead.

-----
Update 10/14/2016

Cuban diplomat Josefina Vidal tweeted examples of over a dozen broken links to Softlayer and Google sites last month, followed by this rhetorical question:


I've spoken with people in the State Department and the Obama administration did not order those sites to be blocked and does not favor doing so. IBM and Google are independent companies acting on their own.

I first wrote about this blocking more than a month before Vidal's tweets -- I hope this post did not lead to her statement.

-----
Update 11/15/2016

I have heard from several sources that Bitly is working again in Cuba. I asked Bitly about it and they confirmed that the service is working again. They promised more news soon, but implied that their service is a special case and other Softlayer sites remain blocked.

IBM's SoftLayer cloud infrastructure service blocks Cuba -- why now?

Cachivache Media recently reported that the Bitly URL-trimming service had stopped working in Cuba. Cubans had been using the service for several years, so this resulted in many broken links.

Cachivache did not know what had happened, but published a traceroute that timed out at an Akamai router. I contacted Akamai, and they said they could not say anything -- they would only talk with their customers -- Bitly in this case.

This traceroute from Cuba to Bitly times out in the Akamai network.

So I contacted Bitly and had an email exchange with one of their support people. (The press and operations departments failed to answer my emails and I could not find a phone number to call). This is a transcript of my email conversation with their support representative:

Larry: My colleagues in Cuba are unable to reach their bit.ly account. They say it failed some time ago, worked yesterday and is now broken again. I attach a traceroute.

Support: Unfortunately, Bitly links do not function correctly in Cuba. This is not an issue on our end – I believe that Cuba and Iran are both unable to access Bitly links, due to government regulations.

I wish I had more info! Let me know if you need help with anything else.

Larry: Cubans have been using Bitly for years and they are no longer on the list of state sponsors of terrorism -- it just recently became unreachable. It was back up for a day earlier in the week then went down again. There is some sort of intermittent failure.

Could you follow up with Akamai on this? Or, if it is a change in your company policy, could someone confirm that?

Support: Thanks for getting back to me. Unfortunately there is not much I can do here, we’ve had reported problems with our links in Cuba, and are working diligently to rectify the issue.

Larry: I am confused -- are you now saying that it is a technical issue rather than policy? If so, by when do you expect to rectify it? The traceroute times out at an Akamai router -- have you filed a help ticket with them?

Support: I wouldn’t necessarily say this is an issue on our end. We know that our links don’t always work in Cuba – we’re not in touch with the Cuban government about this however.

I really wish I had a better answer for you, but I don’t unfortunately! I hope you still find value in our free tool.

Larry: Are you doing it in compliance with a request of the US government? Is Akamai?

Support: As I mentioned, we’re aware of this issue, our engineers are aware and are working to solve the problem.

I can’t provide any more additional info at this time, I apologize for the inconvenience.

Well, that was inconsistent, but I guess a tech support person does not have authority to answer such questions.

Next, I heard from a friend in Cuba who told me it was not only Bitly -- other sites that used Bitly to trim their URLs were also blocked. Confused, I asked a colleague, Doug Madory, who monitors the Internet at Dyn Research, what he thought was going on. It turned out Doug had also been looking into this case. He told me the culprit was Softlayer, Bitly's hosting service, and that he would be providing more technical detail soon.

I checked with SoftLayer and the answer was on their Web site -- they block traffic from countries that are subject to U.S. trade and economic sanctions -- Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. The rationalle for the SoftLayer policy is found in a Commerce Department guidance document.

So, we know what happened, but the real question is "Why now?"

Did Bitly know Cuba and the other sanctioned nations would be cut off when they moved to SoftLayer? (It looks like Bitly moved rather recently).

It turns out that SoftLayer began blocking Iran (and presumably the other countries) last February. Was that triggered by SoftLayer (or parent company IBM) lawyers exercising caution or were they pressured to change by government officials? Are they applying for an exception to the sanction?

Regardless, cutting Cuba off seems inconsistent with the policy of the current US administration. The Commerce Department page on the sanctions refers to "the President’s policy to chart a new course in bilateral relations with Cuba and to further engage and empower the Cuban people, announced on December 17, 2014."

This change inconvenienced a lot of Cubans -- does the US Government really want to do that at that time? Sanctions like this are a blunt instrument -- harming "good guys" like Cuba's new, Internet media as well as "bad guys."

This incident also reminds us of the fragility of Internet applications with dependencies -- the company or service your application depends upon can change its price or terms of use or just turn it off as in this case.

I'll see if I can get a better answer to the question why now? and will let you know what Doug's analysis reveals, but for now, we at least know what happened.

-----
Update 8/9/2016

I've asked IBM and SoftLayer why they made the decision to start blocking Cuba in February. IBM said they had no comment and SoftLayer did not return my phone call or email. I asked Amazon Web Services -- another cloud hosting company -- if they blocked Cuban traffic and replied no answer to my email and they did not return my call.

Hitting that blank wall, I did a Google search and learned that:
  • IBM acquired SoftLayer in 2013.
  • In September 2015, the Treasury and Commerce Departments announced amendments to the Cuba sanctions regulations. "These regulatory changes build on the revisions implemented earlier this year and will further ease sanctions related to travel, telecommunications and internet-based services, business operations in Cuba, and remittances." The announcement states the desire to loosen sanctions on telecommunications & Internet-based services in order to enhance "the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba, and better providing efficient and adequate telecommunications services between the United States and Cuba."
  • In January 2016, Treasury and Commerce announced further amendments to the Cuba sanctions regulations. Secretary Lew said "We have been working to enable the free flow of information between Cubans and Americans" and the announcement goes on to say that Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security "will generally approve license applications for exports and reexports of telecommunications items that would improve communications to, from, and among the Cuban people."
It sounded like the administration was increasingly open to telecommunication with Cuba.

So, I am still wondering why, in February 2016, they decided to start blocking Cuban traffic.

-----
Update 8/11/2016

Bitly CEO Mark Josephson has posted an article addressing the blocking of their site. He reiterates the fact that the decision to block Cuba was not their's and speaks in favor of an open Internet -- an "Internet you can see across," which has been a Bitly tagline since the company was founded.

He concludes that "We understand the rationale behind the rules in place from our partner and are working with them to change this. I’m confident that we’ll be able to address this with our partner, and if we can’t, we’ll try to find another way."

-----
Update 8/18/2016

Amazon Web Services and Rackspace allow Cuban traffic and Google Cloud Platform and IBM/Softlayer block it. (All of them seem to be in similar businesses).

Iroko Alejo says Envato, Themeforest, Attlassian and Schema.org are also blocked.

Paypal allows remittances to Cuba, but they stopped a message accompanying a payment because it contained the word "Cuba." (I wonder what other words they filter for).

Reading the US policy statements on Cuban sanctions (above), it seems like the administration favors Internet communication with Cuba and would be unlikely to prosecute any of these companies for sanctions violations.

I wonder why some companies are more cautious than others.


-----
Update 8/27/2016

PayPal froze the account of Nathaniel Parish after he bought a Cuban cigar while he was in Mexico. In the article he summarizes the US administration policies on purchases of Cuban goods, which, like our communication policy, favors exchange.

Note that his purchase of Cuban cigars was legal.

-----
Update 8/29/2016

I have no way of estimating the number of Web sites blocked in Cuba, but we can get some idea of the number by looking at the numbers of Web sites hosted by known blockers Google and SoftLayer.

Builtwith.com tracks the number of sites served by hosting companies. Here are their current statistics for SoftLayer and Google:


As you see, Google hosts more than twice as many sites as SoftLayer, but SoftLayer hosts more of the top 10,000 sites than Google. (Follow the links above to interactive graphs of the history of these hosting platforms).

An interesting side note -- I was surprised at the amount of information Builtwith gathers on the hosted sites. For a fee, you can order a list of the sites hosted by a particular service along with the following data on each of their clients:
Domain name, Location on Site, Company, Vertical industry, Alexa and Quantcast statistics, phone numbers and email addresses, accounts on Twitter and nine other services, names, titles and email addresses of several employees and more.
For example, I could now give you information about 14 people who work for chronotrack.com.(but I won't).

Privacy is indeed dead.

-----
Update 11/15/2016

I have heard from several sources that Bitly is working again in Cuba. I asked Bitly about it and they confirmed that the service is working again. They promised more news soon, but implied that their service is a special case and other Softlayer sites remain blocked.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Railroad communication and Internet backbone -- trenches with fiber

The Cuban railroad network

The Global System for Mobile Communications - Railway (GSM-R) is an international standard for wireless railway communication and applications. GSM-R base stations installed along the sides of railroad tracks allow for voice and data communication between the trains and railway regulation centers. (The base stations are from 7–15 km apart and the trains can be travelling up to 500 k/h)!

GSM-R has been installed in a number of nations and is now coming to Cuba. This year, they expect to install GSM-R from Havana's Central Railway Station through Santa Clara to Camagüey and subsequently to extend the system to Santiago de Cuba.

A wireless base station
The $40 million project is apparently being implemented in cooperation with a Chinese company, Jiaxun.

Why am I telling you this?

I assume that ETECSA is working with the railroad on this project and that the trench and fiber connecting the wireless access points will be used to augment and "future proof" Cuba's Internet backbone.

(Sprint, one of the major mobile ISPs began as the Southern Pacific Railroad Internal Networking Telephony system -- a communication system built along side the tracks).

Monday, August 1, 2016

Cuban Journalism on the Internet -- an overview

The Knight Center at the University of Texas, which studies journalism in the Americas, has published a long blog post on new Cuban journalism on the Internet. The post surveys Cuban media and profiles a number of outlets, categorized as follows.

State media controlled by the Communist Party: the newspaper Granma, Web sites Cuba Debate and Juventud Rebelde, Televisión Cubana and the radio stations Radio Rebelde, Radio Reloj and Radio Taíno.

Non-state media on the Internet, which are not opposed to the system -- criticizing the leadership, but relatively in favor of socialism: Periodismo de Barrio, El Estornudo and Cachivache.

Non-state media on the Internet, which are opposed to the system and want an end to socialism: 14ymedio, Martí Noticias and Damas de Blanco.

Foreign press: ccorrespondents of Reuters, Russia Today, The Associated Press (AP), Agencia EFE, Agence France-Presse (AFP) and dozens of other international mainstream media.

The Center also holds an annual International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ), and Yoani Sánchez was a keynote speaker this year. She spoke of the technical and legal constraints faced by her publication 14Ymedio and some of their workarounds. For example, since journalist is not one of the occupations approved for self-employment in Cuba, they have registered their writers a typists. For more on her talk click here and here.

Yoani Sánchez (r) during her ISOJ 2016 presentation. Photo: Mary Kang, Knight Center

Friday, July 29, 2016

Old Havana fiber trial to begin August 20th? Many unanswered questions.

Old Havana (red area)

Last February, ETECSA announced a pilot connectivity project in two Havana neighborhoods. The Associated Press report said Cubans in Old Havana would be able to "order service through fiber optic connections operated with Chinese telecom operator Huawei."

I'd not heard anything more about this until the other day when a friend sent me the transcript of a chat between him and someone familiar with the project.

His friend said a two-month free trial will begin August 20th. During that time ETECSA and Huawei will test speed and presumably tune the system. The free trial will only be available in parts of Old Havana and they may be rolling the service out to other areas in 2017, but neither the prices or locations are set.

This leaves many questions. They refer to "fiber-optic connections" -- does that mean fiber to the premises? Fiber/coax hybrid? Fiber/wireless hybrid? How large is the trial? After the trial, where will the service be available? What will it cost? What will the speed be? What are the plans for the possible 2017 rollout? What is the relationship of this project to the earlier plan for providing access to DSL to fifty percent of Cuban homes by 2020? Etc.

We might get answers to some of these questions when the trial ends, but I'm not counting on it.

Here is the transcript of the chat between my friend (YO in the transcript) and his friend (AMIGO in the transcript) who is familiar with the project:

AMIGO:
se va a dar gratis aquí en la Habana vieja
en la parte del casco histórico
rompemos el 20 de agosto
oh

YO:
se va a dar gratis por 2 meses?
ese es el famoso plan piloto…

AMIGO:
Asi es…
estoy completo en eso
aun no se saben los precios
para cuando se vaya a hacer completo pal que lo quiera comprar
ahora se va a dar gratis el montaje y dos meses

YO:
pero en cuba entera o el mismo Habana vieja?

AMIGO:
gratis va a ser solo en la Habana vieja

YO:
dame esos detalles para tirar los chismes en mi blog jejejeejje
AMIGO:
gratis solo en el casco histórico
si claro eso es para probar la velocidad

AMIGO:
más adelante se va a comercializar como un servicio cualquiera
en cuba entera
así es... esto va a ser una prueba piloto para saber cómo se comporta la velocidad y la conectividad

YO:
cojone pero eso será para el 2017
ojala que llegue
AMIGO:
te digo que rompemos el 20 de agosto en la habana vieja

YO:
si pero no eso del plan piloto
sino para la inter que me llegue a mi...

AMIGO:
bueno no se luego de este plan cuando rompen masivo para todo el mundo
eso no se ha definido aun
ni los precios para cuando se vaya a cobrar
seguimos en las mimas

YO: hay que mudarse para la habana vieja

AMIGO:
jajajajaja
tu sabes
déjame redactar un articulito simple, para que los demás no se me vallan adelante con la noticia, tranquilo que la fuente está protegida

Google Translate to English:

FRIEND:
it will give free here in Old Havana
on the part of the old town
we break the August 20
oh

I:
it will give free for 2 months?
that is the famous pilot plan ...

FRIEND:
So is…
I am complete in that
They not yet know the prices
for when you go to make full pal who wants to buy
now it is going to provide free installation and two months

I:
but in whole Cuba or the same old Havana?

FRIEND:
it will be free only in Old Havana

I:
give me those details to pull on my blog gossip jejejeejje

FRIEND:
free only in the historical district
if that's clear to test the speed

FRIEND:
later it will market as a service to any
in whole Cuba
this is ... this is going to be a pilot for how the speed and connectivity behaves

I:
cojone but that will be for 2017
hopefully arrive

FRIEND:
I say we break on August 20 in Old Havana

I:
yes but not that of the pilot scheme
but for inter I get to my ...

FRIEND:
not good then this plan when they break massive for everyone
that is not yet defined
or for when prices go receivable
We continue in mimas

I: we must move to Old Havana

FRIEND:
hahaha
you know
let me write a simple little article, for others not me vallan ahead with the news, assured that the source is protected

-----
Update 10/27/2016

ETECSSA has announced that the fiber connectivity trial in Old Havana would begin by the end of the year. (I had heard they were planning to begin last August).

The announcement said 2,000 users would be included in the trial. I don't know if that means 2,000 locations or 2,000 people. (There are businesses as well as homes in Old Havana). As far as I know, they have not announced the speed or price during and after the end of the trial or what they hope to learn and what their plans are for future fiber.

There was also a leaked plan to make DSL available to 50% of Cuban homes by 2020 -- I wonder if they are still pursuing that project.

-----
Update 12/2/2016

A friend told me that a friend of his who works for ETECSA said the fiber trial would begin on December 5. Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Citmatel Editorial -- obsolete

Cuba's Information Technology and Advanced Electronic Services Enterprise, Citmatel, has a Web site where they offer CDs, DVDs, audiobooks, e-books and downloadable documents for sale:

Home page at the Editorial Citmatel site

I've argued that Cuba might have a future as an educational content producer, so clicked on education and found 31 courses in math, chemistry. physics, Spanish, information technology and "other." There are five information technology offerings -- an ebook on computer vision, a DVD with three videos on power supply repair and CDs with a multimedia book on the Promethean digital future and courses on Web design and Microsoft Office 2007. The Web design book features Dreamweaver C3, another 2007 product.

Five information technology titles

Next I browsed ebooks and found 57 entries, 17 of which were children's books. Several were designated as "new," but they were not yet for sale. A final search for "Fidel" turned up ten multimedia and audio-visual titles.

(Ironically, every page on the Citmatel Web site is copyrighted :-).

Offering CDs with courses teaching software from 2007 is embarrassing when the world has access to the Khan Academy, Coursera, etc. It is embarrassing in a nation with El Paquete Semanal.

I have argued that Cuba might have a future as a content provider for the Spanish speaking world -- movies, television programs, educational material, etc., but from what I have seen, the Citmatel material is of no value. It is the sad result of the stifling of information technology in Cuba. (I can't help thinking of the divergence of Cuba and China, both communist dictatorships that first connected to the Internet in the mid 1990s, but with very different policies).

This is obviously not the sort of thing I had in mind when envisioning Cuba as a content exporter. It seems that Cuba will not have a future as a content provider if they are relying on old, state owned organizations like Citmatel.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Cuba's intranet portal is now on the Web

Cuba should stick to things in which they have a comparative advantage -- as the saying goes, "do what you do best and link to the rest."

A year ago, a team of students and employees at the University of Information Science (UCI) launched a digital portal designed to unify all services and applications available on the Cuban intranet. Doug Madory discovered that it is now available on the international Web at Redcuba.cu, so I took a look at it.

The front page of the Redcuba portal

As you see above, the portal links to various services -- Papeleta, a "billboard" to advertise cultural events, Reflejos, a blog hosting site, Ecured, Cuba's would-be version of Wikipedia, Andariego, a Cuban map site and Cubadebate, an extensive pro-government news site. There are also links to a selection of government, health and education-oriented material.

But the centerpiece is a search engine for the Cuban intranet, so I checked that out with a vanity search on my name "larry press." It returned seven hits, dated between 2003 and 2015. Two were copies of this article on different sites and one was to this article, but none of the others worked. Three were to a Reflejos blog that had been "archived or suspended" and one returned a database error.

Well, I am evidently not a rock star on the Cuban intranet, but my friend Jesús Martínez Alfonso, who led the team that first connected Cuba to the Internet, must be -- right? Wrong. Five of his eight links were to broken pages that seemed to be trying to list committee members for a session at the recent Informatica 2016 conference in Havana. One of the good links was to this article (in which I had also been mentioned), another to this article on the early Internet and a link to a link to the previous article.

You get the picture -- this search engine cannot be compared to a Web search engine in any way, but that is not surprising. China may be the only nation that can support a search engine in competition with giants like Google, Microsoft or Yahoo. The infrastructure to support such an effort is nearly unimaginable and there is no point in Cuba trying to build a search engine unless it is as a teaching exercise for students at UCI. Building a search engine rather than allowing Google or another service to index their material is goofy. (The same goes for Reflejos and Ecured).

I was not familiar with the Andariego map service, so I also checked it out. As you see below, it has a bug -- only displaying the southern half of the island when you zoom out:

Andariego, the map service

But, if you zoom in, the entire screen fills, as shown here in a search for Playa Giron:

Andariego map of Playa Giron

For comparison, I searched for Playa Giron using Google Maps and turned up this map:

Google map of Playa Giron

In this case, the Cuban map shows more detail than Google's. While they cannot hope to compete with Google search, Wikipedia or a blogging service like Blogger or Wordpress, Cuba is in a position to develop better maps of Cuba than Google.

Cuba should stick to things in which they have a comparative advantage. Content like Spanish language entertainment and educational material and applications in areas where they have special needs and knowledge like appropriate-technology medicine. As the saying goes, "do what you do best and link to the rest."

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Update 8/11/2016

Cuba has unblocked access to the Revolico classified ad site in parts of their domestic intranet. Does that reflect a policy change? I wonder who made the decision and why they did it. I also wonder why it remains blocked in other internal networks. Uncoordinated bureaucrats?



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