Wednesday, February 25, 2015

List of jobs that are eligible for self-employment in Cuba -- send in the clowns (and the programmers)

In a previous post I noted that the US will now allow imports of goods and services produced by Cuban entrepreneurs who are independent of the government. It turns out that the Cuban government has a list of 201 jobs that are authorized for self-employment and the list includes Computer Programmer -- leading me to wonder if we would be importing Cuban software and software services.

Another job that caught my eye was Retail Telecommunication Agent, which got be thinking about operators of local Internet-access businesses in rural areas -- perhaps using satellite links where terrestrial connectivity is not available.

But what of the other 199 jobs that are eligible for self-employment in Cuba -- might there be other exports? It turns out that the many of the jobs are providing local service -- small restaurant owner, nanny, barber etc. Others may produce small items which could be exported like ceramic pots or costume jewelry, but software was the only interesting exportable item I found.

But, the list is interesting in its own right, independent of tech or other exports. It is funny -- goofy. I got a kick out of reading it. On a more serious note, it says something about Cuban bureaucracy and the desire to micro-manage. It would have been fun to watch the process by which this list was defined.

We see frequent, optimistic reference to Cuba's desire to liberalize and move toward a market economy, but dealing with a government that would attempt to create such a list would be difficult.

At any rate, although this is a little off-topic for this blog, here is the list of 201 jobs authorized for self-employment:*

Musical Instrument Tuning and Repair
Water Delivery
Construction Laborer
Animal Rental
Formal Wear Rental
Knife Grinder
Party Entertainer (clowns, magicians)
Mule Driver
Artisan (arts and crafts maker)
Mechanical Saw Operator (as in a sawmill)
Wagon or Pushcart Operator (to help move things)
Flower Bed Arranger
Mobile Hand Cart Hawker of Agricultural Products
Furniture Repairman
Collector and Payer of Bills
Operator of Children’s Fun Wagon Pulled by Pony or Goat
Buyer and Seller of Records (including CDs)
Used Book Seller
Builder/Seller/Installer of Radio and TV Antennas
Craftsman/Seller/Repairman of Wicker Furniture
Breeder/Seller of Pets
Window Glass Repair
Animal Caretaker
Public Bathroom Attendant
Caretaker of Elderly/Handicapped
Public Park Caretaker
Leather Tanner (except cows and horses)
Palm Tree Trimmer
Restaurant Owner (paladares)
Café Owner (cafetería)
Non-Alcoholic Beverage Seller (home delivery)
Café Owner (cafeteria, light snacks and beverages)
Street-based Seller of Food and Beverages
Charcoal Manufacturer/Seller
Wine Maker/Seller
Maker of Yokes, Harnesses and Rope for Oxen
Automobile Electrician
Building Superintendent
Book Binding
Electric Motor Rewiring
Animal Trainer
Flower Wreath Arranger
Button Coverer (wraps buttons in cloth, popular in the 50’s and 60’s)
Car washer/Oil Changer
Bus/Train/Taxi Stop Barker (calls out instructions to waiting passengers)
Engraver of Numbers
Blacksmith/Seller of Horseshoes and Nails
Trader of Scrap Metals
Driving Instructor
Sports Trainer (except martial arts and diving)
Clothes Washing/Ironing
Shining Shoes
Spark Plug Cleaner and Tester
Septic Tank Repairman and Cleaner
Make-up Artist
Refrigerator Mechanic
Typist and Copier
Miller of Grains
Audio Systems Installer/Operator
Tire Repair
Children’s Ride Operator
Parking Attendant (including for cars, bicycles)
Animal Groomer
Cleaning/Household Help
Car Painter
Furniture Painter and Polisher
House Painter
Sign Painter
Ornamental Fish Farmer
Plastic Covering Maker for IDs
Well Digger
Producer/Seller of Items Used in the Home (self-made or made by other selfemployed)
Producer/Seller of Rubber Accessories
Producer/Seller of Clay Goods (pots, planters, cookware)
Producer/Seller of Bricks and Tiles
Producer/Seller of Articles and Animals for Religious Use
Producer/Seller of Harnesses, Blankets, and Saddles
Producer/Seller of Costume Jewelry
Shoemaker/Shoe Salesman
Producer/Seller of Brooms and Brushes
Producer/Seller of Plaster Figurines
Grower/Seller of Ornamental Plants
Piñata Maker/Seller
Grower/Seller of Plants for Animal Feed and Medicinal Purposes
Music/Art Instructor
Shorthand, Typing, and Language Instructor
Computer Programmer
Metal Polisher
Collector/Seller of Natural Resources (i.e. sea shells)
Collector/Seller of Recyclables
Watch Repair
Leather Repair
Jewelry Repair
Bedframe Repair
Automobile Battery Repair
Bicycle Repair
Costume Jewelry Repair
Fence and Walkway Repair
Stove/Range Repair
Mattress Repair
Small Household Goods Repair
Office Equipment Repair
Electronic Equipment Repair
Mechanical and Combustion Equipment Repair
Eyeglass Repair
Sewing Machine Repair
Saddle and Harness Repair
Umbrella and Parasol Repair
Disposable Lighter Repair and Refill
Tutor (currently employed teachers not eligible)
Doll and Toy Repair
Art Restorer
Night Watchman or Building Doorman
Leather Craftsman
Accountant/Tax Preparation
Textile Dyer
Roaster (i.e. of peanuts, coffee)
Part-time Farm Laborer
Document Translator
Shearer (as in sheep)
Vegetable/Fruit Street Vendor (from fixed venues)
Shoe Repair
Contracted Employee of a Self-Employed
Event Planner (weddings, etc
Real Estate Broker
Repair of Measurement Instruments
Food Wholesaler
Food Retailer (in kiosks and farmers’ markets)
Room/Home Rental
Postal Agent
Telecommunications Agent (retail)
Building Construction Services
Car Body Remolding
Maker/Seller of Marble Objects
Maker/Seller of Soaps, Dyes
Iron Worker (grating for doors, windows)
Welder/Flamecutter (cutting with gas)
Maker/Seller of Aluminum Products
Maker/Seller of Non-Ferrous Metals
Floor Polisher
Repairer of Water Pumps
Space Rentals in One’s Home to Selfemployed
Insurance Agent
Maker/Seller of Food and Beverages in “China Town”
Private Construction Contractor (in the Havana “Old Town”)
Horse and Carriage Rides
Antique Dealer
Habaneras (women posing in colorful colonial attire)
Fortune Tellers
Folkloric Dancers
Mambises-style Musical Groups (traditional Cuban music)
Artificial Flowers Seller
Painters (who sell pictures in the street)
Dandy (man dressed in Colonial garb)
Hair Braider
Fresh Fruit Peeler
Dance Duo “Amor” (traditional Cuban dances)
Benny Moré Dance Team
Trained Dog Exhibitor
Musical Duo “Los Amigos” (popular music)
Extras (people in period dress)
Traditional Barber
Truck Driver
Station Wagon Driver
Small-Truck Driver
Bus Driver
Mini-Bus Driver
Taxi Driver
Handcar Operator (on rails)
Jeep Driver
Passenger Boat Operator
Motorcycle Driver
Three-Wheeled Pedal Taxi Driver
Cart Operator
Horse-Drawn Carriage Operator
Pedal Taxi Driver

* This list was taken from an appendix in a very interesting report -- "Soft Landing in Cuba? Emerging Entrepreneurs and Middle Classes" by Richard Feinberg. The list is dated September 26, 2013 and may have changed subsequently.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Can we now do a satellite access pilot in Cuba?

I have suggested short and long-run steps the government of Cuba could take if, as they claim, they wish to improve Internet access. One of my short-term suggestions was to allow private entrepreneurs to sell satellite Internet connectivity. (Retail telecommunications agent is one of the 201 jobs authorized for self employment).

The United States has now cleared the way for satellite Internet providers to serve Cuba and it has been reported that Vice Minister Gonzales Vidal said that the importation of the satellite equipment Alan Gross brought into the country is no longer prohibited.

If there is a school, clinic, Joven Club, etc. willing to try a satellite pilot, contact me -- I'm willing to seek a satellite provider in the US and will pay for the first years connectivity.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The US will allow imports from Cuba's nascent private sector -- will Cuba allow software exports?

Will Cuban programmers be allowed to sell software and do offshore programming and localization in the US and online?

Many people have asked me whether I expect the Cuban Internet to thrive after rapproachment with the US, and I tell them that is up to the Cubans -- the ball is in their court.

President Obama passed them another ball yesterday -- Cubans can now be paid for many goods and services exported to the US. (There is a list of exceptions to this broad policy).

My first reaction was a big grin -- I am more interested in what Cuba can sell in the US than I am in what US and other companies can sell in Cuba -- and I imagined Cuban companies and professionals offering high margin goods and services in the US.

But, Obama's offer is limited to "independent Cuban entrepreneurs" -- who are those entrepreneurs and what do they do? This report by Richard E. Feinberg lists the 201 self-employment job categories that were open to Cubans as of September 26, 2013 and it is a goofy list with jobs like three-wheeled pedal taxi driver (not to be confused with pedal taxi driver or horse-drawn cart operator). I'd advise you to check the list for laughs and also a glimpse into the Cuban bureaucratic mind.

Well, that was discouraging, but then I looked more closely at Feinberg's table grouping the 201 jobs into eight categories and one jumped off the page -- computer programmers were included in the "other" category along with clowns and magicians!

How did programmers get on this goofy list? Was it an oversight or an intended loophole for would-be app developers, Web site designers and developers, offshore programmers, software localizers, etc.?

There were 476,000 self-employed Cubans in December 2014 -- I wonder how many were computer programmers and how many more would apply for a self-employment license if software and software service export is actually allowed.

If any readers know any of these self-employed programmers, I would love to hear from them -- to hear what they are currently doing and what they would do if allowed to export to the US.

Programmers are close to my heart, but the Cuban economy can export much more than software. If Cuba is to take advantage of the offer President Obama has made, they must drop what Ted Hencken and Arch Ritter call the "internal Cuban embargo." The Cubans would be wise to adopt the economic and Internet reforms suggested by Hencken and Ritter if they hope to export more than artisan crafts, pottery and religious articles.

Update 2/19/2015

Official daily Juventud Rebelde said participants in the forum stressed the need to "promote exports of computer services and products, establish business models among telecommunications operators and providers, and foment the creation and development of state companies in harmony with non-state forms of management."

Update 2/20/2015

If Americans can now purchase goods and services from Cuba, can Cubans crowd-fund projects in the US? Cuban drummer YISSY raised €5,000 on Verkami, a Spanish crowd-funding site. Why not Cuban software projects (and everything else) on kickstarter?

Update 2/25/2015

I've posted the complete list of jobs eligible for self-employment -- it is goofy and funny, but it also says something about Cuban micro-management and bureaucracy.

Update 2/27/2015

Two excellent articles on the:

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The possibility of a uniquely Cuban Internet

This post is not about what I think will happen, but to begin discussion of what the Cuban government could do if the goal were to provide an open Internet with affordable (free in some cases?) access.

The Cuban Internet is in a sorry state. Freedom House ranks Cuban Internet freedom 62nd among the 65 nations they survey and the UN International Telecommunications Union ranks Cuban information and communication technology development last among 32 nations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Historically, there are three primary causes for the sad state of the Cuban Internet -- the US trade embargo, Cuban poverty at the time of their connection to the Internet and the government's fear of information. (We'll discuss a possible new constraint, ETECSA, later).

President Obama has lifted the first barrier and, when we look at other poor Latin America and Caribbean nations, we see that Cuba could afford a better Internet than it currently has.

That leaves fear of an open Internet. The government says the Internet is a priority and they want to expand access as quickly as financially feasible. I am skeptical, but let’s assume they are sincere – what might they do in the short term and the long term?

In the short term

Cuba cannot afford ubiquitous, modern Internet infrastructure today – they need low-cost interim action while planning for the long term. Here are some low-cost ways they could improve the Internet in the short run:

What about the long term?

Long range planning, addressing technology and, more important, infrastructure ownership and regulation policy, should begin immediately.

Cuba has little Internet infrastructure. There is an undersea cable to Venezuela, but little fiber on the island. (Eventually, Cuba might take control of the cable being installed between Guantánamo and Florida). Nearly all home connections are dial-up and the cell network is obsolete 2G technology. There are 573 public access computers in 155 locations, but they are slow and an hour online costs nearly a week’s pay for many workers.

Cuba should leapfrog today’s technology, looking toward developments that are five or more years out – 5G  mobile communication, high frequency wireless by Google and others, the satellite constellation projects from SpaceX and OneWeb, connectivity using the undersea cable at Guantánamo, etc. Routing traffic using version 6 of the Internet protocol will prepare them for the “Internet of things.”

The long range planning of technology is necessary, but formulating policies for ownership of infrastructure and regulation is more important -- not only for Cubans, but for the rest of the world as well if the Cuban experience leads to innovative policies.

The conventional wisdom is that Cuba should invite foreign companies to install infrastructure – a path many developing nations have followed with marginal success. It is not certain that Cuba, with its current government and weak economy, could attract foreign investment, but even if could, I would hate to see Cuba's Internet future in the hands of companies like AT&T or Orange.

If they do go with foreign investment, I would not be surprised to see them partnering with Google rather than a traditional ISP – Google executives have visited Cuba and Google is clearly interested in global connectivity. My experience in the US leads me to trust Google to do a better job than the incumbent ISPs, but, I would still have to ask -- in the long run, why should we expect Google to be better for the Cuban people than a traditional ISP? (I'd ask the same question of aspiring global satellite ISPs SpaceX and OneWeb).

Cuba should go slowly and consider a broad range of infrastructure ownership policies like municipal ownership in Stockholm, government as a venture capitalist in Singapore, government as rural wholesale backbone provider as in India, individual ownership of final links, etc. Cuban policy makers should consider a broad range of policy models -- Chile, Iceland, Vietnam, Estonia, etc. etc.

In 1997, fear of free speech led the government to squelch the Internet, but today there is another potential stumbling block – ETECSA, Cuba’s monopoly Internet service provider. ETECSA is usually described as a state-owned monopoly, but it’s privately owned by a murky collection of investors (rumored to include Fidel and Raúl Castro) and regulated by the Ministry of Communication.

The relationship between ETECSA and the Ministry is unclear – which organization makes investment decisions, sets prices, gets the profits or absorbs the losses, etc.?

Cynics predict the Cuban Internet will undergo a Soviet-style sell-off to foreign investors who will run it for their profit. But, if the Cuban government sincerely embraces its socialist goals, it has a chance to create a uniquely Cuban Internet with the goal of providing universal, affordable access to its citizens rather than making profit for private ISPs, ETECSA or the government. I’m skeptical, but hope I’m wrong.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Netflix comes to Cuba -- only Fidel and Raúl can afford it for now *

What about YouTube?

Netflix has joined Google as one of the first US companies to offer an Internet service in Cuba, but few Cubans can afford the $7.99 monthly Netflix subscription and home access is nearly all over dial up connections. DSL bandwidth at public access points, hotels and some work places can only support low quality Netflix streams and Cuba's second generation cell network will not support mobile viewing.

Forgetting access, how about Copyright? Netflix cannot afford to violate copyright deals with its suppliers and in Cuba they have to compete with Cuba's weekly pirate distributions of movies, TV episodes, magazine, software, Web sites, etc. and similar material delivered over local WiFi networks.

It would be interesting to know what sorts of royalty rates Netflix is paying for the material they plan to stream in Cuba and what content will be available.

Given the economic, copyright and infrastructure constraints, I suspect that, for now, Fidel and Raúl Castro will be the only Netflix customers in Cuba and they will only be able to watch old Cantinflas movies and Netflix productions like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black.

What about YouTube?

Google executives recently visited Cuba -- did they talk about YouTube? I imagine a much higher percent of YouTube content can legally be distributed in Cuba than is the case for Netflix, but the vast collection of YouTube video would cause problems for Cuban censors. Which Cubans would be allowed to access YouTube?

Google does not block YouTube, so it is available to the few people with an international Internet connection, but I have not been able to find anyone who has seen YouTube in Cuba. It is not available in Universities, and, even if it were, student bandwidth caps would limit or eliminate viewing. Does anyone reading this in Cuba have access to YouTube video?

(I am guessing that Netflix video is streamed from inside Cuba, perhaps from this ETECSA data center, but YouTube is not).

I joked about the Castro brothers being the only Netflix customers in Cuba, but hotels and other senior government officials probably also have access. While that is not enough to justify going into Cuba, Netflix had gotten valuable publicity and demonstrated that they are a global company.

Finally, everyone is focusing on Netflix, YouTube and other companies selling goods and services to Cuba. My focus is on the goods and services Cuba can sell to the US and the rest of the world. (We took a giant step in that direction with the announcement that many types of "goods and services produced by independent Cuban entrepreneurs" could now be imported into the United States).

How long will it be before there are Cuban channels on YouTube and Netflix is commissioning videos made by Cubans? Maybe Google should open their next YouTube production center in Havana.

*Note -- I revised this post after communicating with people in Cuba and at Google and Netflix.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Tomorrow's SpaceX launch: a reusable rocket, science and Earth's next selfie

Sunday February 8 at 6:10 EST (two minutes after sunset), a SpaceX rocket is scheduled to launch. Previous SpaceX satellites delivered payloads into low-Earth orbit, but this one is destined for the Lagrangian Point nearly 1 million miles from Earth.

At the Lagrangian point 1 (or L1), approximately one million miles from Earth, the
gravitational forces between the sun and Earth are balanced, which provides a stable
orbit that requires fewer orbital corrections for the spacecraft to remain in its
operational location for a longer period of time.
Source: NOAA

There are several reasons I will be watching the livestream of the launch.

SpaceX will attempt, for the second time, to recover the rocket. The first time they tried to recover a rocket they failed, but they understand the reason for the failure and hopefully will succeed this time.

The satellite, called "DSCOVR," has scientific and symbolic goals. At the Lagrangian Point, DSCOVR will remain stationary with respect to the Earth and the Sun, enabling it observe the Sun and serve as an early warning system for potentially disruptive solar flares.

Being stationary relative to the Earth will also enable DSCOVR to serve as a distant "Web cam" providing us with a feed of the entire, fully-lit Earth -- an ever changing version of the famous "Blue Marble" picture taken from Appolo 17. (Al Gore called for this space cam while Vice President and, after a long political struggle, his vision is about to be realized).

Earth's first selfie -- from Appolo 17

If SpaceX succeeds in recovering the their X9 rocket, they will refurbish and reuse it in a subsequent launch, cutting cost significantly -- and moving us a step closer to Internet access using a constellation of low-Earth orbiting satellites.

Update 2/7/2014

I have two blogs and I inadvertently posted this on the wrong one -- it was supposed to be at! Still, I will leave a copy here because SpaceX satellite Internet access may serve Cuba in the future. It's a long shot both technically and politically, but not out of the question.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Guantánamo is in the news, but not the undersea cable to Guantánamo

It’s going to be for the entire island in anticipation that one day that they’ll be able to extend it into mainland Cuba.
Ronald Bechtold, ex-CIO, office of the Secretary of Defense

Guantánamo has been in the news lately -- not because of the prisoners held there, but because Raúl Castro insists that it be returned to Cuba. The contvoversy is over the 45 square mile base, but I have not seen mention of the undersea cable connecting Guantánamo to an unspecified location in Florida.

The estimated completion date for the cable is December 2015 and it could become a bargaining chip in US-Cuba negotiations.

No technical details have been released, but Ronald Bechtold, who was chief information officer at the Secretary of Defense’s office described the cable as a “gigantic bundle” saying “It’s going to be for the entire island in anticipation that one day that they’ll be able to extend it into mainland Cuba.”

Bechtold's comments were denied by Army Colonel Greg Julian, saying “There is no plan for the Southcom to provide fiber-optic communications support to mainland Cuba." He said the project goal is to improve communications for the workers statinoned at Guantánamo. Julian spoke strongly -- he was quoted as saying "[Bechtold] was out of his mind. He is no longer working for the Department of Defense.”

Bechtold was a civilian employee of the Defense Department at the time he made the statement and was scheduled to retire.

Colonel Julian said there was no plan to extend the cable, but plans can change. I've not found subsequent references to this cable or its current status (using Google), but it could be a significant addition to Cuban internet infrastructure if they are sincere about increased access.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Internet press hypes Cuban WiFi access

Poster with WiFi announcement at the Technology Center (14ymedio)

While I was on vacation it was widely reported that ETECSA would be providing megabyte per second WiFi Internet access in Santiago de Cuba for $4.50 per hour. ETECSA subsequently issued a clarification, saying they would be providing WiFi access to the Cuban intranet at no cost.

The initial reports were all based on a 3-sentence post on the Web site of the Cuban Journalist's Union.

The rapid spread of this semi-correct story is a product of click-hungry Internet "journalism" -- contrast that with the reporting a few days later by Yosmany Mayeta Labrada on the 14ymedio site. (English translation).

The initial reporting was not only opportunistic -- Cuba has been in the news lately -- it was uncritical. One would expect the Internet Press to recognize that a few WiFi access points with 1 megabyte per second back-haul speed at a cost of $4.50 per hour is neither Big News nor the sign of a major shift in Cuban Internet policy.

This is the same fallacy as in the sad case of Alan Gross. Gross was convicted of bringing equipment into Cuba that, had he succeeded, would have made no significant difference. That project cost the American tax payers millions of dollars and provided the Cuban government with a propaganda "threat" that it has grossly overstated.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

I'm on vacation

You will not see new posts on this blog before January 21.

Summing up recent events

I put this list of recent posts on Alan Gross and the future of the Internet in Cuba for my other blog. They are in chronological order, beginning with a November 11 post asking whether Gross was about to be freed:
(for background on the case -- what Gross brought into Cuba, its technical and propaganda importance, his incarceration, court cases, and negotiations for his release, click here.)

Alan Gross brought three of these kits into Cuba.

Alan Gross and his wife Judy just after his release from prison

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Cuban government support of the weekly "packages"

Cuban blogger Isbel Diaz Torres has written a two part post on the information "packages" that are distributed each week in Cuba.

In part one, he lists 12 factors that lead him to believe that the Cuban government may be behind these weekly packages. I will not list the 12 factors here -- you can see them in his post -- but he makes a compelling case that the package service could not run as smoothly as it does without government participation or approval.

In part 2 he discusses the motive the government might have for supporting the service. Since the weekly packages include current television program episodes, movies, magazines, etc., they supply weekly entertainment, eliminating what may be the key factor behind people's desire for Internet access. He also lists other, very limited, services that the government argues substitute for Internet services. He speculates that the government wants to be able to claim that Internet access is not needed because Cubans have everything they want without it.

One cannot know whether Torres' hypothesis is true. The weekly packages are surrounded in mystery. I have asked many people who distributes them and how they get the material into Cuba and no one seems to know.

If the government is behind the weekly packages, I would suggest a simpler motive than trying to rationalize a lack of Internet access -- money. The packages are a going business with an established curating and distribution organization. Someone is making money and it might be the government or a friend of the government.

The Cuban government says information technology is now a priority, but they are limited in what it can afford.

They could surely afford to institutionalize and upgrade the weekly "sneaker net" if they were sincere. The people curating and distributing the material could be recognized as small businesses and new types of material -- like news and education -- could be included.

The big stumbling block would be copyright. The government might not want to acknowledge copyright violation. If they chose to worry about copyright, they could negotiate block licenses with the owners of the material. Since they not getting any royalties for Cuban distribution today, low royalties, perhaps with a promise of increases over time, could be negotiated.

I've made a couple of other low cost proposals the Cuban government could implement in the short run -- a satellite pilot trial leading, if successful, to a broader roll out.

If they are sincere in the desire to prioritize information technology, they could also get behind and extend the weekly packages.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Interviews of ETECSA officials

Juventud Rebelde published a summary of what seems to have been a three hour online question and answer session between their readers (at least the ones with Internet access :-) and ETECSA officials.

They talked about ETECSA's data center, which has over 100 terabytes storage capacity today and will be expanded by five times next year. While large and a good start, this is not comparable to the data centers operated by companies like Google.

The data center went online in February 2014 to host data and services of state agencies and Nauta email. It currently hosts over 160 websites and what sounds like colocation for "over 15" organizations. (The following image, which accompanied the Juventud Rebelde post, is a general sketch of a Savvis data center, not a representation of the actual ETECSA data center).

The data center also hosts the Orion search engine developed at the University of Information Science. I tried a few Orion searches and, as far as I could discover, there are no images and it is only crawling .cu web sites. I could not even turn up a picture of Fidel Castro:

When asked about cloud storage for individuals and home Internet service, the officials made no commitments saying were focusing on shared capabilities due to limited funds and said they expected to improve the quality of service in more than 230 Internet access rooms at third party sites. A significant number of access points will be in Joven Clubs. WiFi access will also be available at these sites, but evidently prices will remain $4.50 per hour.

The officials promised to continue modernizing and expanding mobile networks, adding 800,000 "lines," allowing over 3 million users. Nothing was said about providing 3 or 4G capability.

The article leaves me with the impression that this was more like a press conference for ETECSA than hard-hitting question and answer session.

If I could ask questions of ETECSA, I would be interested in learning about their management and relationship to the Ministry of Communication.

Update 12/30/2014

Juventude Rebelde published more of the online Q and A with ETECSA officials.

ETECSA said they plan to create an exchange point for the networks of Infomed, the universities, the Joven Clubs and the Ministry of Education and that there are points of presence in all Cuban municipalities.

The short article is accompanied by many questions and answers.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Can there be a uniquely Cuban Internet?

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

The first instance of citizen journalism on the Internet was during the Soviet Coup attempt of 1991, where it was used to coordinate dissent and share news during protests. We tend to think of citizen journalism as anti-regime -- the Twitter Revolution, the Arab Spring.

But there are important counter examples, like that provided by blogger Carlos Alberto Pérez, who was recently profiled in a New York Times article on Cuban bloggers. Pérez is not a revolutionary seeking to overthrow the Cuban government -- he works for the Ministry of Communication and has government-provided access to the Internet at work and at home.

He criticizes the government in his blog La Chiringa de Cuba, but does not advocate revolution -- he "criticizes to perfect the system."

Carlos Alberto Pérez -- taken from a New York Times article and video on Cuban bloggers

I hope his point of view prevails -- rejecting both the far left and far right and finding Cuban solutions to Cuban problems.

How does this general principle apply to the Internet? Today, the Internet is under the control of an opaque monopoly, ETECSA. Neither I nor Cubans paying $4.50 per hour for slow DSL access or using their 2G cell phones like the current situation.

But, I would not like to see Cuba go to the other extreme -- ceding control over the Internet to a foreign investor in return for infrastructure. I have seen that approach in the US, and it is far from optimal and in developing nations like Cuba, it has produced poor results.

Hopefully, Cuba will find a uniquely Cuban way to a modern Internet. The goal should be eventually providing universal, affordable (free in some cases) access to the people of Cuba -- not profiting ETECSA, the Cuban government or foreign investors.

I would not bet on that rosy outcome, but, if it is to be achieved, it will take many years -- involving both short and long-term programs).

I do not know Carlos Alberto Pérez or what his job is in the Ministry of Communication, but I hope the Minister is more inclined to read his blog than to cut it off.

Update 2/4/20114

A post in the Havana Times asking "Where are the US-Cuba talks headed" is accompanied by the illustration shown below. This gets at the reservation I have over the possibility (probability?) twat the Cuban Internet will be turned over to foreign investors from the US or elsewhere. (It's not just the US, the French telecommunication company Orange has already made a deal with Cuba).

Monday, December 22, 2014

Who owns ETECSA and who runs the show?

The move toward normalization of relations between the US and Cuba has generated speculation that Internet access will improve markedly. I agree that that is a possibility, but it is far from assured. As a virtual Internet "greenfield," they have the possibility of building a uniquely Cuban Internet using current and future technologies.

But Internet policy and goals are a bigger question mark than technology and that brings us to Cuba's monopoly telecommunication service provider ETECSA (Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A.).

The ITU describes ETECSA as "one of the last state telecommunication-sector monopolies" and Wikipedia says that 27% of ETECSA is owned by Rafin SA and the remainder is owned by the Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC).

Who owns ETECSA

But, is ETECSA state-owned? In 2011, Telecom Italia sold its 27% share of ETECSA to a company called Rafin, SA. The Central Bank of Cuba describes Rafin as a non-banking financial institution and lists the operations it is authorized to perform on their Web site.

If Rafin owns 27% of ETECSA, what about the other 73%. Wikipedia and the ITU report that that belongs to the the Cuban Government, but the Official Gazette of the Justice Minister cites the following equity shares: Telefónica Antillana SA, 51%, Universal Trade & Management Corporation SA (Utisa), 11%, Banco Financiero Internacional, 6.15%, Negocios en Telecomunicaciones, 3.8% and Banco Internacional de Comercio, 0.9%.

Are these the owners of ETECSA?

Who manages and determines ETECSA policy?

Rafin and several of the other organizations listed above are "anonymous societies," which I take to be something similar to "corporations" in the US. The others are banks and a corporation.

I am not an economist, but this leaves me wondering what the meaning of an SA or corporation is in a communist nation -- aren't these capitalist organizations? That leads to other questions like -- who put up the money for the purchase of Rafin's 27% share of ETECSA? (There is an unsubstantiated rumor that Rafin is owned by the Castro brothers).

What happens to ETECSA profits? Do the organizations that own it receive dividends? Are they re-invested? Who covers losses?

Who sets ETECSA policy? Is there the equivalent of a board of directors? Does the MCI have a voice?

Who makes operational decisions -- which services to offer, where to invest? Who sets prices for services?

This post asks several questions and provides no answers, but the answers to those questions will determine the future of the Internet in Cuba. I hope they do not squander the opportunity to create a uniquely Cuban internet (as they did in 1997) -- for the people of Cuba and as an example for the rest of us.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A joke and some cool images on US-Cuba relations

This post is off topic -- not about the Internet per se -- but the joke cracked me up and the image gallery accompanying this NY Times article are a terrific recapitulation of US v Cuba since 1959.

Click here for image gallery

Friday, December 19, 2014

Is the Internet a priority for Cuba? The ball is in their court.

Yesterday, a reporter asked me to comment on two quotes following the release of Alan Gross:

1. President Obama: "Unfortunately, our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe."

2. Senator Rubio: "The reason why they don't have access to 21st century telecommunications -- like smart phones, like access to the internet -- is because it is illegal in Cuba."

The reporter asked which statement I thought was closer to the truth.

While there is something to be said for both, I had to side with Senator Rubio. There are three primary causes for the sad state of the Cuban Internet:

1. Fear of an open Internet by the Cuban government: When the Internet first came to Cuba, there was high level debate over how to deal with it. Raúl Castro led the anti-Internet faction and they decided to restrict access. (Around the same time, the Chinese decided to encourage the growth of the Internet, but tightly control content and monitor users).

2. Financial constraints: The Cuban economy was in terrible shape at that time due to the collapse of the Soviet Union and they remain poor, but today they are better off than many Latin American and Caribbean nations with better Internet infrastructure.

3. The US trade embargo: The embargo raised the cost of computers and communication equipment in Cuba, which has had a dampening effect. This effect has been diminished with the emergence of China as a major manufacturer of communication equipment, but it is still a factor. The 2009 US decision authorizing the provision of communication services in Cuba could have enabled Cuban satellite connectivity -- the sort of thing Alan Gross was imprisoned for.

Senator Rubio could also point to the ironic facts that Cuba's first connection to the global Internet was over a Sprint link funded by the US National Science Foundation and that nearly all Cuban traffic flows through the United States today.

But, that is history. Cuba now says they want to give the Internet priority. I hope they mean what they say -- the ball is in their court.

Update 12/20/2014

A number of politicians and Cuba watchers discussed these quotes. Their consensus was:
The U.S. sanctions have played a role in limited availability of technology. However, Rubio is right that the Cuban government has nearly complete control over the Internet. That isn’t a result of sanctions on telecommunication business activity in Cuba. Even if the United States fully repeals its embargo, government control over Internet access could continue.

We rate Rubio’s statement Mostly True.

Update 12/29/2014

Diario de Cuba asked Cuba experts José Remón, Iván Darias Alfonso, Ted Henken and me what we thought about the future of the Cuban Interent. Each reply is worth reading, but they seem to agree that the ball is in Cuba's court now -- that the growth of the Internet will not be constrained by the US.

December 31, 2014

I should have posted these earlier, but here are the Cuba policy changes the President has announced "in order to increase Cubans’ access to communications and their ability to communicate freely:"
  • The commercial export of certain items that will contribute to the ability of the Cuban people to communicate with people in the United States and the rest of the world will be authorized. This will include the commercial sale of certain consumer communications devices, related software, applications, hardware, and services, and items for the establishment and update of communications-related systems.
  • Telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and internet services, which will improve telecommunications between the United States and Cuba.
The US will license the export of any Internet-related goods and services Cuba will allow -- what will they allow?

Welcome home Alan Gross!

I've been quite busy since the release of Alan Gross, so have not taken the time to comment on it on this blog.

I've been following his story on this blog -- both the technology and the politics -- for several years, and I am very happy to end that thread!

I'm also happy that his release has removed an obstacle to the normalization of relations between the US and Cuba -- that will benefit the Cuban people and the Cuban Internet.

This may or may not be the end of Alan Gross's involvement with the Internet in Cuba -- he is clearly an advocate of Internet freedom and a friend of the Cuban people.

I hope he adjusts quickly to his freedom and am looking forward to hearing more from him if he cares to share his experience.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Cuban Internet in context

The Cuban Internet is minimal and unfree -- far worse than one would expect in a nation with a relatively high UNDP Human development index.

In the last week or so I've seen a spate of articles (for example this one) pointing out that only a few, relatively rich Cubans can access the Internet and that the Cuban Internet is not free. This is not exactly news.

These articles were triggered by the publication of the 2014 editions of the Freedom House Freedom on the Net report and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Measuring information society report. I will highlight a few of the reported findings on Cuba and put them in context by looking at some Cuban data from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human development report.

Freedom on the Net, 2014

Freedom House ranked Cuba 62nd among the 65 nations they surveyed. 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:

Net freedom and sub-component ranks out of 65 nations

These scores put Cuba in the group of nations that includes China, Syria and Iran -- not exactly august company.

Freedom House puts Cuba in the context of all nations with the following plot:

Internet freedom versus penetration -- purple indicates not free, green free

(Too bad we cannot combine Iceland's Internet with Cuba's climate).

The report includes a well documented essay on the state of Cuban Internet freedom and you can see summaries of Cuba's rating in the 2012 and 2013 Freedom on the Net reports here.

Measuring information society, 2014

This report is a compilation of data and analysis of the state of information and communication technology (ICT) in 166 countries. The key summary statistic is the ICT development index (IDI), which is based upon three sub-indices as shown here:

The ITU framework and index structure

The ITU model says infrastructure access plus capability and skills lead to ICT use which impacts individuals, organizations and society in a nation.

Cuba ranks 125th on the IDI -- they are doing well on skills, but access pulls them down:

IDI and sub-index ranks out of 166 nations

The IDI and sub-indices are a function of many variables and they include telephone, mobile and Internet indicators -- so, for example, Cuban access is pulled up by low-cost fixed telephones and pulled down by fixed broadband prices, as shown here:

Latin American fixed broadband price

Composite indicators like these offer a very rough characterization of the Internet in a nation and there is much more Internet-related data on Cuba in the report. For example, broadband is limited to 2 mbps DSL and even that is not available in private homes; the Cuban household connectivity rate is only 3.4%; Cuban IDI is 32nd out of 32 ranked nations in Latin America and the Caribbean (Haitii was not included in the IDI rankings for some reason); in spite of the ALBA cable,Cuba has the lowest international bandwidth per user in the Americas; Cuba is one of four nations in the Americas without wireless broadband and ETECSA is one of the last state telecommunication-sector monopolies in the world.

Human development report, 2014

Like the others, the UNDP human development report compiles an overall index, the human development index (HDI). The HDI is computed for 187 countries and territories and is a composite of sub-indices for health, education and income (up to a cutoff point).

Cuban fares better on the HDI than the other indices -- it is ranked 44th in the world and second only to Chile in Latin America and the Caribbean:

Cuba is ranked 44th in the world on the HDI.

The Cuban HDI is second to Chile in Latin America and the Caribbean.

As we see below, Cuba has made steady progress with the exception of the "special period" after the fall of the Soviet Union and more recently, in education. (What's up with education)?

Cuban HDI and constituent indices over time

The report includes profiles of the state of human progress in each nation -- you can see Cuba's here.

Cuba's HDI rank is laudable and it was achieved essentially without the Internet -- think of what they could have achieved with a robust Internet (even if it were controlled as in China). That is a sad opportunity loss. The Cuban government denies fear of the Internet, but they have restricted it since its inception.

The tip of the iceberg

The above is only a quick look at these three reports -- each is extensive, well researched and contains significant analysis. They also publish their data and provide interactive analysis tools so you can play with the data yourself. For example, the UNDP makes their data available in Google's Public Data Explorer (PDE), which makes dynamic plots of time series.

I used the PDE to plot the relationship between the number of users and the HDI in 2008, the year Cuban education began to drop off:

The graph changes dynamically as the year slider at the bottom is moved. Check it out for yourself, here -- you will like the dynamic presentation.

(This sort of analysis was introduced by Hans Rosling -- check out these great presentations if you are not familiar with his work).

The UNDP data is also available as a Stat Planet world map, which I used to create the two HDI charts shown above.

If, like me, you like the global perspective, you will want to look at these three reports and the accompanying data.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Granma says IT is now a priority -- is this true change?

An article in Granma says the "informatización" of society is a priority for Cuba.

They say the 154 public "navigation" rooms were a trial balloon -- it is not clear whether they were referring to the technology or public acceptance -- but evidently they have been pleased with the results.

At one point, the article refers to the "information superhighway" -- an expression that seems as dated as the Cuban Internet.

They say Cubans will not only "drink" from the Internet, but will contribute content -- putting the best of Cuban of culture, education, knowledge and humanism on line. As I have suggested, online education and medical information would be a good place to start.

The article speaks of the ongoing, gradual implementation of 26 projects, but it is not clear what sorts of projects they refer to. One concrete promise is the expansion of public access rooms in libraries and post offices. They will also be rolling out digital television.

If they are sincere, they should consider satellite connectivity as a low-cost, interim option and follow up on that friendly visit from Google a while ago. I would also keep an eye on Elon Musk's satellite plans.

If we are going to see a new era in Cuba's attitude toward the Internet, policy considerations are more important than technology -- the goal is to benefit the Cuban people, not the government, ETECSA (or AT&T). Cuba is nearly an "Internet greenfield" -- there is little installed infrastructure so they could plan on future technologies, look for expertise around the world and set goals that are uniquely Cuban.

This article appeared around the same time as an official presentation on technology to students at the University of Havana. I am not enough of a "Cuba watcher" to have an opinion as to whether this signifies a true change -- I hope it does.

Officials say Cuba is not afraid of new technology -- they just lack the funds

Wilfredo Gonzalez and Abel Prieto
A recent Cuba Sí post quotes Cuban officials saying that money, not fear is responsible for the sad state of the Cuban Internet.

Presidential adviser Abel Prieto told a group of Havana University students that the island is "not afraid of technology." Computer science and communications vice minister Wilfredo Gonzalez assured the students that there were no government policies that restrain development of new technologies. He said economic conditions hinder development and pointed out that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) ranks Cuba 14th in the world on training people on new technologies and 153rd in access to those technologies.

I will have more to say on those ITU rankings in a future post, but, for now, let me point out that the ITU ranks Cuba last among all nations in Latin America and the Caribbean on information and communication technology development and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) ranks Cuba second only to Chile in Latin America and the Caribbean on their Human Development Index, which is based upon health, education and income.

UNDP human development index

How is it that a nation that is better off than other Latin American nations is unable to afford better Internet connectivity?

If Cuba were not afraid of information technology, Alan Gross would not be in prison and a modest proposal for satellite connectivity would be implemented and replicated. Don't get me wrong, Cuba has financial need, but a build out using satellite technology would be quite affordable as an interim step toward a modern, fiber-based Internet.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

An Alan Gross suggestion from an amateur

Alan Gross is starting his sixth year in prison. As I understand it, Cuba wants to discuss releasing him in exchange for the remaining Cuban Five prisoners and the US refuses to do so because they do not see equivalence in the cases, saying that Gross was trying to facilitate Cuban communication, not doing espionage.

If that negotiation is at an impasse, how about trying to reframe the issue? Alan Gross's project was not unique. It is known that USAID funded another project to get communication equipment into Cuba, Twitter-like ZunZuneo and A program to encourage dissent among youth. We do not deny funding these programs, but say they were not trying to overthrow the Cuban government.

Instead of a prisoner swap, how about the US sincerely apologizing for and promising to end projects like these in return for Gross's freedom? The US has already been outed, so we would not be revealing anything new in apologizing. At the same time, it would give the Cuban government a propaganda win and a rationale for releasing Gross on humanitarian grounds -- making them look good. Would they go for that?

I understand that hard-liners on either side would refuse such a deal and I understand their reasons, but think about poor Alan Gross.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Where there is smoke, there is fire -- will Alan Gross be released soon?

Senators Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, and Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, said they met with Gross for about two hours during a trip that included meetings with Cuban officials and they were optimistic about the release of Alan Gross.

That was two days ago. Today, they returned without Gross, saying the Cuban's insist upon a swap for the remaining Cuban Five and the US insisting that that would not happen. Flake and Udall refused to endorse the swap. Still, Flake said he does feel they are closer.

I still wonder if something is in the works. There has been a flurry of news about Alan Gross lately. Articles about him have been turning up in my "Google Alerts" pretty much every day, and the New York Times ran three editorials on Cuba and matters related to Alan Gross in the past month:
Can you think of anything else a Republican and a Democrat senator agreed on during the last six years? In spite of this setback, momentum -- perhaps a PR campaign by the White House -- seems to be building and we still may see Alan Gross released.

Here is a video of the two senators talking about their views of Alan Gross and our relations with Cuba:

This video has been taken down -- I wonder why?????

Sunday, November 2, 2014

When Cubans and Americans have cooperated

Sprint, a U.S. corporation with funds from the U.S. National Science Foundation, provided Cuba's first Internet link.

Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, praised Cuba for their contribution to the fight against ebola during a panel discussion at the ebola crisis at the Manhattan headquarters of Thomson Reuters.

She just returned from a fact finding trip to West Africa and said of Cuba
I think they announced that going on almost two months ago, And they are sending another 200 on top of that 265. That is a big gap and a big need.
She also said it gave her great pride
To see these Americans or Europeans or Cubans or whoever it is in their full protective gear, in the scorching heat, working two-hours shifts, because that’s all you can tolerate being in that suit.
When the moderator asked a leading question about US relations with Cuba, she answered
There’s no integrated effort, in part because the UN is doing the command and control. But we’re very grateful to them for doing this.
Below, you see two Cuban doctors at the largest of 17 ebola treatment units (ETUs) in Liberia, which will be mainly operated by Cuban doctors and nurses. It is noteworthy that the picture was posted on the Voice of America Web site and funding is from USAID.

I'm posting this in a blog on the Internet in Cuba because it reminds me of the collaboration and friendship of Cuban and American networking technicians during the pre and early-Internet days.

The day Cuba established its first IP connection to the Internet, Jesus Martinez, Director of Cuba's National Center of Automated Data Exchange (CENIAI), the organization responsible for networking at that time posted a statement saying
After so many days, years of sacrifice and vigilance, I have great satisfaction to announce that our beloved Cuba, our "caiman of the Indies," has been connected to the Internet as we had desired. We have a 64 Kbps link to Sprint in the U.S.
Sprint, a U.S. corporation, subsidized by funds from the U.S. National Science Foundation, provided Cuba's first Internet link.

At that time, American networnkers were welcome visitors at CENIAI and at Cuba's Informatica conference and Cubans and Americans and others attended and taught in the Internet Society's annual Developing Country Workshops and conferences. There was no politics and no big money, just a common belief in the importance of the Internet.

Martinez and his colleagues were not politicians seeking power or representatives of corporations seeking monopoly profits, they were technicians and others who believed that computer networks were fascinating and held great potential for improving the world. They may have been naive, but one has to respect them and we owe the same to any medical professional coming to West Africa to treat ebola patients.

Cuban doctors and USAID in Liberia

Jesus Maritnez and Internet pioneer Vint Cerf

CENIAI staff, 1990

American visitors at CENIAI

Internet Society Developing Nations Workshop, 1993

Update 11/12/2014

Wall Street columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady says Havana earns almost $8 billion a year off the backs of the health workers it sends to poor countries. She says Cuba is well paid for sending doctors abroad and the doctors themselves get very little. O'Grady calls this "slave trade," which sounds like click bait, and Listening to the interview, it seems that a lot of her conclusions are speculative. You can see the interview for yourself here:

If you are a Wall Street Journal subscriber, you can read her column here.

A reader of this blog, who is a Cuba-trained physician now living in the US, has told me Cuban doctors are eager to go abroad because there is nothing for them to do in Cuba. O'grady paints a different picture. I have no reliable way to form an opinion -- just passing these links along.