The following is my Cuba chapter from a Mosaic Group report on the Global Diffusion of the Internet. That report contains a description of our analysis framework and detailed studies of Cuba, China, Finland, Bosnia, and the Persian Gulf states. Information on the Global Diffusion Project is is available at http://som.csudh.edu/fac/lpress/gdiff/.

This chapter was reformatted and published as:
Press, L., "Cuban Computer Networks and their Determinants," DRR-1814-OSD (49 pages), RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA, February, 1998. It is available from Rand.

Cuban Chapter Summary

Excuse the appearance and formatting of the following -- it is a straight conversion from Microsoft Word.

Larry Press


The Internet in Cuba

Table of Contents

Country Background *

Networking in Cuba *

A Brief History *

Connecting Networks *

The CENIAI Network *

The RENACYT *

Teledatos *

Infomed *

Inter-city Networks *

TinoRed *

CIGBnet *

Bank Networks *

Tourist School Network *

Multidimensional Summary *

Determinants *

Telephone Infrastructure *

Difficulty Attracting Capital *

Cultural Values *

Centralized Planning *

Protecting Embargoed Business Activity *

Propaganda *

Threat of use by subversive organizations *

Non-Commercial Orientation *

Populist History *

Human Capital *

Conclusions and Prospects *

Glossary *

 

 

 

 


The Internet in Cuba

We shape our tools and they shape us. The Internet has the potential to change commerce, education, recreation, the process of government, etc. in a nation, but it is also shaped by the values, laws, politics, economy, etc. of that nation. Infrastructure shapes society and society shapes infrastructure.

The Internet is concentrated in developed, democratic, capitalistic nations. Cuba is neither developed, democratic, nor capitalistic, and in our inductive study, we hope to learn from such variety. Cuba's Internet reflects the society. For example, Cuba was late to come to the Internet. Its international connectivity is meager relative to internal networking activity, and Cuban networking is relatively non-commercial, and is relatively diffuse geographically.

We explore these and other characteristics of the Cuban networks in this chapter, as well as the factors responsible for them. We begin with brief description of Cuba, followed by a section on the history and current state of Cuban networks. This is followed by a sections on the factors which have helped determine that state, and conclusions and prospects.

Country Background

Cuba is the largest, most populated Caribbean nation, and has been governed as a Communist dictatorship for nearly 40 years. There is tight control over information and dissent, and Cuban mass media and education stress the hostility of the United States and its economic embargo, and the considerable achievements of the revolution in education, health care, and equality.

In spite of very difficult economic conditions, the revolution enjoys considerable support. A Miami Herald survey taken November 1-9, 1994 (at an economic low point) found 54% of the people pro-regime, 25% unengaged, and 23% alienated. Sixty two percent felt the performance of the national government was good (23% poor), and 69% felt the government protects human rights (23% abuses). Fifty eight percent felt the revolution had more achievements than failures (31% more failures).

After years of stable, subsidized trade and intellectual exchange with communist nations, the Cuban economy was hit very hard by the fall of European communism. Total trade (exports plus imports) fell from $13,500 million in 1989 to a low of $3,164.9 in 1993, but by 1996 had rebounded to $5,329.5. GDP fell by roughly 35% during this period, but has also bottomed out. Cuba also lost billions of dollars in annual Soviet oil and sugar price subsidies. The US embargo and Cuba's state-controlled socialist economy have further discouraged business and capital formation. To offset these difficulties, Cuba has actively sought external investment in recent years, with some market reform, free trade zones, and openness to foreign ownership.

These economic difficulties have left Cuba with what is arguably the worst telecommunication infrastructure in Latin America and the Caribbean. Email connectivity to the Internet began in 1991, and grew relatively rapidly until 1994-95, at which time there was a pause while it was decided how Cuba would participate in the Internet and who would be responsible for implementation. At this time, Cuba has little international connectivity in relation to their intranational networks and technical people.

Networking in Cuba

Many Cuban organizations and enterprises have "networks." These may be a single timeshared PC on which several people have email accounts to which they connect via telephone or X.25, or LANs with IP or UUCP links to other networks. As in most developing nations, there is nothing comparable to the IP backbones found in more developed nations. After a brief history of Cuban networking, we describe the four networks which provide connectivity to other networks and four of the more important multi-city networks they connect. This section concludes with a summary of the state of Cuban networks in terms of the six dimension framework outlined in Chapter 2

A Brief History

Cuban connectivity to the Internet began in 1991 with a UUCP link between CENIAI, the Center for Automated Exchange of Information, and Web/NIRV, an Association for Progressive Communications (APC) affiliate in Toronto. Traffic was exchanged about once per day, and there were frequent interruptions for technical or financial reasons. The state of Cuban networking in early 1992 is summarized by Press and Snyder.

By early 1995 there were four networks with international UUCP links: CENIAI, CIGB, the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, TinoRed, a network serving primarily non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Cuban Youth Computer Clubs (YCCs), Infomed, serving the medical community, and an X.25-based tourism network. International email traffic was over 60,000 bytes per month, approximately 28% inbound to Cuba, and there were over 2,600 users. (See Table 1). Internally, Cuba had many LANs, UUCP links (over telephone and X.25 connections), IP intranets, and notable skill and enthusiasm in the technical community, but there was still no international IP link.

Table 1: Monthly international email traffic in 1995

Network

k bytes

Accounts (minimum)

TinoRed

16,709

413

CENIAI

16,481

732

Infomed

14,000

500

CIGBnet

13,441

950

Total

60,631

2,595

Sources: Infomed traffic, email message from Juan Reardon, posted on Mar 9, 1995, http://www.igc.apc.org/cubasoli, others traffic, personal email message from Riff Fullan, intlinfo@web.apc.org, users, Press, L. Cuban Telecommunications, Computer Networking, and US Policy Implications, DRU-1330-1-OSD, Rand, Santa Monica, CA, July, 1996.

 

In 1997, the four international UUCP networks were replaced with an IP link from CENIAI to Sprint in the US. CENIAI also has IP links to 9 other networks in Havana as well as to its own Internet Services division; Infomed has nodes in each of Cuba's provinces; CIGB has UUCP links its centers in 2 provinces and Havana; TinoRed's YCCs have proliferated, but Red David which served NGOs is gone; and the tourism network now serves government and business customers as well as the tourist industry.

Cuba's intranational networking gains have been strong in comparison to progress in international connectivity. As of July, 1997, .cu had only 67 hosts in 14 domains according to Network Wizards, and in December, 1997, the University of Costa Rica showed only 129 hosts in 21 domains (See Table 2). The only Latin American or Caribbean nations with fewer Internet hosts per capita than Cuba were the Falkland Islands and Haiti. Table 3 shows Cuban IP hosts relative to Caribbean nations with over 1 million population.

Table 2: Cuban Computers, Internet IP Hosts and Users and Email

Count per

Count

1,000 pop.

Computers

62,757

5.70

IP hosts

129

0.01

Email accounts*

3,000

0.27

Email institutions

70

0.01

Internet IP Users

100

0.01

Sources:

Computers: Economic Eye on Cuba, September 1, 1997

Hosts: University of Costa Rica, http://ns.cr/latstat/

Email users: CENIAI

Email institutions and Internet IP users: Internet, The Printing Press of our Times, Granma International, December 3, 1997, http://www.granma.cu/dic97-3/49dic10i.html.

*Accounts which had been active at least once per month for the previous three months.

 

Table 3. Internet hosts in the six Caribbean nations with population over 1 million (1997)

 

Population

 

Hosts/

Nation

(millions)

Hosts

1000 pop.

       

Trinidad and Tobago

1.3

552

0.434

Dominican Republic

7.8

3,155

0.397

Jamaica

2.5

367

0.143

Puerto Rico

3.6

160

0.042

Cuba

11.0

129

0.012

Haiti

7.2

0

0

Source: University of Costa Rica, http://ns.cr/latstat/

 

Connecting Networks

Four Cuban networks provide connectivity for other organizations, somewhat analogous to ISPs in other nations. CENIAI and RENACYT (National Network for Science and Technology) have been in data communications since it began in Cuba. Teledatos and Infomed are newer, having been formed to support the critical tourism and health care industries. We will discuss each of these networks. (See Figure 1).

___

Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment (CITMA)

Agency for Information for Development (AID)

Institute for Scientific and Technological Information (IDICT)

Center for Automated Exchange of Information (CENIAI)

Institute of Cybernetics, Mathematics and Physics (ICIMAF)

Center for Teleinformatic Research and Development (CIDET)

National Network for Science and Technology (RENACYT)

Ministry of Steel, Mechanical and Electrical Industries (SIME)

Group for Electronics in Tourism (GET)

Teledatos

Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP)

National Center For Medical Sciences Information

Infomed

 

Figure 1. Location of the connecting networks within their ministries.

 

The CENIAI Network

CENIAI, http://www.ceniai.inf.cu, is Cuba's oldest networking organization. It is housed in a prestigious location at the Capitol building, and is one of five divisions of IDICT, the Institute for Scientific and Technological Information. IDICT is one of nine organizations making up of the Agency for Information for Development (AID) in the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment (CITMA). RENACYT, is also part of AID. IDICT is over 30 years old, and CENIAI has worked on data communication since 1982. Researchers from all communist nations accessed large bibliographic databases (reminiscent of DIALOG) at Moscow's Institute for Scientific and Technical Documentation over the Soviet X.25 research network. In 1991, CENIAI established the UUCP link mentioned above, and for the first time Cubans could communicate directly with western colleagues. Initially, all international traffic was routed through CENIAI which provided gateway service for several small intranational networks.

In October, 1996, with technical assistance from the Organization for American States and the Latin American and Caribbean Networking Forum, CENIAI established a 64kb/s IP link to Sprint in the US, at a cost of $10,000 per month. In February, 1997 CENIAI took over administration of the .cu domain from Web/NIRV. Within Cuba, they provide IP connectivity at 64kb/s to 9 networks in Havana, and their own Internet services operation is on the same 10mb/s LAN (30 machines) as the IP router (See Table 4). They also poll many UUCP networks.

 

 

Table 4: Networks with IP Connectivity to CENIAI

CENIAI Internet

SIME

BNC

Ministry of Culture

Infomed

Ministry of Communication

Ministry of the Interior

MIP

DataCIMEX

UNDP

TinoRed

RENACYT

Source: Martinez, Jesus, Unpublished Presentation at Info '97, Havana, October, 1997.

While Cuba has international IP connectivity, it is very limited. A recent Granma article estimated that only 100 Cubans had direct access to the Internet. The majority of Cuban users access the Internet via UUCP email, which is routed through CENIAI.

CENIAI's Internet services arm does Web and BBS development, and operates Web, list, news, and gopher servers. Traffic has grown rapidly since the IP link was established, and it is now saturated. They hope to upgrade the Sprint link to 256kb/s soon, and may obtain a link to Italy as well. (International circuits are provided by the Cuban telephone company ETECSA, Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba, S. A.). To lighten the bandwidth load, the CENIAI web server is mirrored at the Scientific Network of Peru, http://www2.ceniai.inf.cu, but it is not mirrored in North America or Europe, so access is still slow from those regions.

The RENACYT

RENACYT is a service of CIDET, the Center for Teleinformatic Research and Development of ICIMAF, the Institute of Cybernetics, Mathematics and Physics. Like EDICT/CENIAI, ICIMAF is part of AID. CIDET has been involved throughout the history of Cuban networking, having designed and manufactured X.25 PADs and switches.

RENACYT's primary role is in connecting various networks, including CENIAI and Infomed. They are internal to Cuba, and carry 62% of all Email traffic. While important, RENACYT is limited to UUCP traffic over X.25 links. The equipment they use lacks sufficient memory and speed to encapsulate IP over X.25, and X.25 is inefficient for the routing of IP traffic even when it is feasible.

Teledatos

Teledatos, http://206.130.183.203/teledatos/whatis.html, is a division of GET, the Group for Electronics in Tourism. GET is part of SIME, the Ministry of Steel, Mechanical and Electrical Industries, and is responsible for integrating telecommunications and computer equipment in the tourist industry. SIME also contains ICID, the Central Institute for Digital Research, which developed the first Cuban computer (a DEC PDP-8 equivalent) in 1970, and GET may have been an ICID spin-off charged with supporting the tourism industry, a strategic source of investment and hard currency. GET installs and maintains computers and fax machines and develops tourism applications

Teledatos is the GET division responsible for networking. They operate an X.25 network with nodes in Havana, Varadero (a tourist center), Caya Largo, Cienfuegos, Holguin, and Santiago de Cuba. They also claim a link to Madrid, probably in support of Spanish hotel chains operating in Cuba). Foster reports that they had invested $1 million in this network in 1996, and planned to invest $1-2 million more. The new equipment they are installing is capable of supporting IP over X.25, and of being upgraded to Frame Relay.

Teledatos has gone well beyond tourism, providing connectivity to 12 ministries, provincial governments, and other networks (see Table 5). Teledatos (and other organizations) offer many of the same value added services as CENIAI, though Teledatos operates what appears to be a unique FAX-email gateway service. It is noteworthy that CENIAI provides connectivity to some of the same ministries as Teledatos. This indicates a degree of competition between the two, and CENIAI and AID officials stated that in fact they were open to and expecting competition.

Table 5: Networks Connected by the GET Teledatos Network

 

Tourism

Ministries

Solmelia

Ministry of Tourism

Trust Gran Caribe

Ministry of Hydraulic Resources

Trust Horizons

Ministry of Communication

Trust Islazul

Ministry of Internal Affairs

Caracol

Ministry of Basic Industry

Cubanacan

Ministry of Transport

Rumbos

Ministry of Agriculture

Transtur

Ministry of Internal Trade

Abatur

Ministry of Foreign Trade

Ministry of Light Industry

Ministry of Sugar

Ministry of Culture

Other Organizations

Other Government

Institute of Meteorology

National Assembly

Institute of Radio and TV

State Department

National Bank of Cuba

Provincial Governments

Source: http://www.cubaweb.cu/teledatos/usuarios.html.

 

GET and a Canadian partner have formed Internet Cubaweb Communication Corporation, a joint venture which operates a very successful web server, http://www.cubaweb.cu, in Canada. This web site claims it in the top 5% worldwide in terms of visits. Cubaweb hosts a wide variety of information about Cuba and tourism. It has home pages for the Ministry of Tourism and many travel companies and hotel chains, and offers popular money-transfer service for foreigners wishing to send money to friends and relatives in Cuba. Cubaweb also hosts publications including, Granma International Online, Revolutionary Youth Online, and Workers Online, which are edited in Cuba. Since this server is located at a relatively high-bandwidth site in North America, access is much faster than with the CENIAI server, which is mirrored in Peru.

The relationship between Teledatos and ETECSA is not clear. ETECSA is implementing an X.25-based national data network, and is said to be working with GET. The Teledatos network may be physically distinct from the ETECSA network or Teledatos may be a customer using the ETECSA network.

Infomed

Infomed, http://www.infomed.sld.cu/, established in 1992, is a project of the National Center For Medical Sciences Information of the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP), and its goal is "to facilitate the exchange of electronic information in the fields of medicine, biomedicine, and general health, and to facilitate the linkages between professionals, academicians, researchers, functionaries, and public health workers in Cuba and abroad."

While focused on health information, Infomed also provides connectivity for other organizations. Before international traffic was consolidated under CENIAI, Infomed had its own UUCP link to GreenNet, an APC affiliate, in The United Kingdom.

Infomed was originally funded by the World and Pan American Health Organizations and subsequently received $250,000 from the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, for construction of nodes in medical schools in each provincial capital.

The network consists of a primary node in Havana (with a 64kb/s IP link to CENIAI) which connects to regional nodes in Villa Clara, Camaguey, and Santiago de Cuba. These in turn link to secondary nodes in the remaining provincial capitals (Figure 2). There are 14.4 kb/s IP links from the regional nodes to Havana and IP or UUCP links from regional nodes to the secondary nodes. In addition to the hardware, Infomed has people in each province, and provides training.

 

Figure 2: The Infomed Network

The source of the figure is:

Source: Urra, Pedro, "La red electrónica de información de salud: INFOMED, http://infonew.sld.cu/taller/t-11.htm.

 

 

The primary node in Havana has two Pentium pro servers with 128MB memory, and 7 GB RAID disks running Linux. This is impressive in a nation where most machines are still 286-based PCs. These servers are on a Novell LAN with a variety of machines from 286s up. According to Infomed staff, the central node has around 600 users, and Infomed services between 2,500-3,000 people overall.

There are LANs with Linux-based servers in each regional or secondary node, so staff are learning to work with IP intranets. The nodes are located in provincial medical schools, but a large pediatric hospital will soon be linked as will teaching laboratories in each of the medical schools. They eventually hope to reach each of Cuba's 70,000 doctors and 200,000 health care workers, but this will require public access centers.

While Infomed does connect other networks, they focus their effort on medical applications, including data retrieval and listservers. Those with IP connectivity can also access their Web server and ISIS databases using a graphical browser. Infomed collaborated in the design of the Cubaweb server, but their own Web server is in Cuba.

Inter-city Networks

A number of organizations operate significant inter-city networks, which connect to CENIAI or RENACYT. We will describe four of the more important ones, TinoRed, CIGB, and networks run by banks and tourism schools.

TinoRed

TinoRed was established by the Union of Young Communists, with explicit support from Fidel Castro. Previously, TinoRed served two primary constituencies, Red David, an NGO network, and the YCCs, walk-in computer centers distributed throughout the nation. They established an international UUCP link to Web/NIRV in Toronto.

In 1992, TinoRed headquarters had a single 386-based PC running UNIX as their central node in Havana. Today there are several Pentium PCs, and two training labs with machines. They route email traffic over an IP link to CENIAI. The Red David NGOs no longer have accounts, but the YCCs are doing well.

There are now YCCs in all but five of Cuba's 169 municipalities, and all have computers running Windows 95 and modems. The clubs have 1,100 computers. The YCCs offer access to computers and games, productivity software, and classes. They estimate that 135,000 people have taken classes at YCCs in the ten years they have operated. TinoRed had a difficult time surviving financially during the mid 1990s, but today they are stable and planning to continue expansion. They have proposed establishing LANs with eight PCs in each of the provincial capitals, connected to Havana, and running IP over X.25 or leased lines.

CIGBnet

The Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), was founded in 1986, and occupies 43,200 square meters of offices and laboratories on a Havana campus. They have two other centers in Havana, one in Camaguey, and another in Sancti Spiritus. Their network supports both research and Heber Biotec, the company which markets CIGB products in over 80 nations.

Fiber connects the four main buildings on the CIGB campus and there are 10mb/s 10BaseT drops to over 200 computers. There are 10mb/s Ethernet LANs with 7 to 15 computers at each of the other locations. The central campus, Camaguey, and one of the Havana centers route UUCP traffic via leased lines to RENACYT X.25, and the other two over dial up links.

Before CENIAI consolidated international traffic, CIGB operated a UUCP link to Web/NIRV in Toronto. They run IP on their LANs, and have thus gained experience with IP as well as UUCP networking. They operate FTP, mail, list, and Web servers, and have developed applications for both Web browser and email-based database access. The operators of CIGBnet have gained considerable experience with IP networking and innovative solutions to problems since beginning UUCP email in 1991. CIGB's Internet web server is hosted in Canada.

Bank Networks

Cuba has two bank chains, the Cuban National Bank, which serves business and completes international transactions and the Popular Savings Bank which serves the general population. As shown in Table 6, their major information technology investments in recent years have been in computers and LANs, not wide area networking (though there is some X.25 communication). In addition to installing computers in banking offices, they have developed secure messaging and office (not customer) transaction processing software packages.

Table 6: Increase in Cuban Bank Automation, 1994-1996

 

Cuban National Bank

Popular Savings Bank

 

12/94

10/96

12/94

10/96

Offices

210

211

250

247

Automated Offices

0

206

5

247

Computers

242

3,289

70

2,519

Source: Cuban banking system brochure.

Like the nation, the banks seem to be following the strategy of building internal strength ahead of external connectivity, and it is planned that the National Bank offices will be networked over the next three years. This networking will probably be tied to older technology since the Cuban banking application packages are written for DOS-based computers with as little as 4 MB memory and NetWare LANs, and they are designed for X.25 communication. This is understandable given the installed base of machines in Cuba, but it may be short sighted. The cost of a powerful, Windows-based, IP-ready computer is now under $1,000, and, as manufacturers are working to broaden the commercial market, the price will surely fall. Targeting platforms like DOS and X.25 leads to software which is limited in its features and difficult to use, and, perhaps more important for the long run, it limits the experience of the developers.

Tourist School Network

Tourism is a critical Cuban industry, and, as such, the government has established a chain of twenty schools of hotel operation and tourism throughout the island. Their network is more typical than Infomed which received external funding. Of the twenty schools, fifteen have email today, and traffic is exchanged using UUCP over X.25 or dial-up links. It is also interesting to note that they participate in at least one limited metropolitan-area network in the province of Camaguey, exchanging mail between Camaguey University, Infomed at the Medical High School, a Sugar Industry Service Center, a Software Company, and the tourism school.

 

Multidimensional Summary

With this background, we rank Cuba on our framework dimensions:

 

1995:

Dimension

Value

Pervasiveness

1

Geographic Dispersion

1

Sectoral Absorption

1

Connectivity Infrastructure

1

Organizational Infrastructure

1

Sophistication of Use

1

1998:

Dimension

Value

Pervasiveness

1

Geographic Dispersion

1

Sectoral Absorption

1

Connectivity Infrastructure

1

Organizational Infrastructure

2

Sophistication of Use

1

The 1998 values were assigned as follows:

Pervasiveness: Cuban IP connectivity is minimal, with perhaps as few as 100 users. Even if we were to include UUCP email accounts, there are less than 1/1,000 population, therefore Cuba is at the experimental level. However, it is noteworthy that email use extends well beyond the network technician community.

Geographic Dispersion: The only IP point of presence offering network connectivity in Cuba is at CENIAI in Havana. If; however, we were to consider email connectivity, we would find access in every province and nearly every municipality. So, while Cuba must be rated at the single location level because of limited IP, they are clearly interested in geographic dispersion.

Sectoral Absorption: IP connectivity is rare in the health and government sectors, and nonexistent in education and commerce, giving Cuba a rare overall ranking. On the other hand, UUCP-based email is used in the health sector throughout the nation, more than 10% of the ministries have email accounts, and the YCCs (education sector) are nationwide.

Connectivity Infrastructure: While Cuba has an international IP link, they have no domestic backbone and barely any leased line access, placing them at the low end of level 1 on this dimension. They are severely hampered here by poor telephone infrastructure and their historical concentration on X.25.

Organizational Infrastructure: While not independent businesses, CENIAI and Teledatos are both in the business of providing connectivity to organizations with networks, and there is some degree of competition between them (either by design or historical development). There is also a degree of coordination provided by the Inter-ministerial Commission for Networking. On this basis, we can rank Cuba at the controlled level.

Sophistication of Use: As there is little IP connectivity, Cuba must be ranked at the minimal level here; however, email and information retrieval from email-driven servers have reached the conventional level in the health care and biotechnology communities.

Determinants

This section discusses some of the major factors which have shaped and constrained the Cuban networks. These determining factors, and the dimensions on which they have primary impact are shown in Table 7.

 

Table 7, Determinant Impact

 

Determining Factor

Dimensions most directly affected

   

Poor telephone infrastructure

Pervasiveness, geographic dispersion, connectivity infrastructure, and sophistication of use are all inhibited due to the difficulty in connecting end users and networks.

Difficulty Attracting Capital

Connectivity infrastructure cannot be improved without capital.

Cultural values stressing health, education and equality

Health and educational sectoral absorption is emphasized as is geographic dispersion outside the capital.

Centralized planning

Organizational infrastructure (the Inter-ministerial Commission) is formulated and pervasiveness is reduced due to planning delays.

Concern for national security given US hostility

Pervasiveness is reduced by access restriction.

Protection of embargoed business activity

Pervasiveness is reduced by content restriction.

Propaganda to and from US

Pervasiveness is reduced by content and access restriction.

Threat of use by subversive organizations

Pervasiveness is reduced by access restriction.

Non-commercial economy

Commercial sectoral absorption is inhibited as resources are shifted elsewhere.

Populist history

In seeking to server rural areas and small towns, geographic dispersion is increased and connectivity infrastructure extended outside the capital.

Emphasis on human capital

Education sector absorption is increased.

 

Telephone Infrastructure

The poor quality of the Cuban telephone infrastructure has constrained growth in each of our dimensions, particularly in pervasiveness and geographic dispersion. There is little equipment today, and there has been little growth and improvement since the revolution. In 1957, about two years before the revolution, Cuban long distance telephone rates were doubled, and the metering of local calls began. After the revolution, those price increases were rolled back. At the time, Cuba had 170,000 main lines (2.44 per 100 people). By 1995 there were only 353,200 main lines (3.21 per 100 people). The per-capita increase was only 32% during this period. (See Table 8).

Table 8: Cuban Telephone Summary

1959*

1992

1994

1995

Cuban Population

6,977,229

10,785,800

10,989,400

11,010,000

Havana Population

860,798

2,142,100

2,175,200

2,179,980

Percent in Havana

12%

20%

20%

20%

Main telephone lines

170,000

336,945

349,471

353,200

Main lines in Havana

124,100

153,287

156,937

160,500

Percent in Havana

73%

45%

45%

45%

Lines/ 100 capita, Cuba

2.44

3.12

3.18

3.21

Lines/100 capita, Havana

14.42

7.16

7.21

7.36

Public Telephones

na

10,003

5,814

6,030

Sources: 1992 and 1994, International Telecommunication Union,

1959, ETECSA and Radio Marti Research Department.

* Havana population is extrapolated from 1953 (785,455).

 

 

 

 

Note that, while low, the growth rate outside Havana was substantially higher than in Havana. The percent of main lines in Havana fell from 73% in 1959 to 45% in 1995, and Cuba's ratio of teledensity in the largest city to the overall teledensity (2.29) is now below the average (2.79) for lower-middle income nations (Table 9). Since the entire island is poorly served, that differential is probably explained by the values and emphasis of the government after the revolution. It was a revolution against Havana, not from Havana. Though dilapidated today, the rich architecture of Havana is a reminder of the gap between Havana and rural poverty at the time of the revolution.

Cuban telecommunication infrastructure lags behind much of the world and the Caribbean region. Cuba has fewer telephone lines as a proportion of population than any large Caribbean nation but Haiti, and is closer to the low-income nations of the world than the lower-middle group in which it falls.

 

Table 9: Cuban telephone system relative to income groups and Caribbean nations with over 1 million population, 1995*

GDP

Pop.

Mainlines

Teledensity

Mainlines/

CAGR

Percent

Teledensity

$Bil.

mil.

(thousand)

(mainlines/

$mil. GDP

1990-5

local

largest city/

Nation

100 cap.)

digital

overall

Cuba

18.4

11.0

353.2

3.21

19.20

2%

3%

2.29

Dominican Republic

10.4

7.8

569.0

7.29

54.71

9%

37%

1.80

Haiti

1.8

7.2

60.0

0.84

33.33

4%

94%

2.79

Jamaica

4.2

2.5

291.8

11.53

69.48

21%

100%

1.99

Puerto Rico

35.8

3.6

1,195.9

33.22

33.41

3%

100%

1.32

Trinidad and Tobago

4.8

1.3

209.3

15.98

43.60

4%

100%

0.83

Low-Income Nations

1,157

3,232

64,032

1.98

55.34

25%

90%

3.32

Lower Middle

1,653

1,133

103,028

9.09

62.31

7%

43%

2.46

Upper Middle

2,258

481

69,838

14.51

30.93

6%

65%

1.75

High

20,800

856

455,203

53.16

21.88

3%

78%

1.08

World

25,868

5,703

692,101

12.14

26.75

4%

73%

2.88

Source: 1996-7 World Telecommunication Development Report, International Telecommunication Union, Geneva, 1997.

* GDP is for 1994

 

 

 

Not only is there little infrastructure, what is there is obsolete and in ill repair. In 1995, only 3% of local main lines connected to digital central offices, faults per 100 lines doubled between 1992 and 1995, and the number of working pay phones dropped from 10,003 to 6,030. Estimates are that 40% of the central office equipment was installed in the 1930s and 1940s, and the equipment comes from vendors in Eastern Europe, Western Europe and North America

.

The poor condition and slow growth of the telephone system reflects the difficulty of attracting capital in a socialist economy which is actively opposed by the US Like many other nations, Cuba decided to privatize telecommunications in order to attract capital for modern infrastructure. They invited proposals for joint venture partners in 1993, and in June, 1994, ETECSA was formed. ETECSA was a joint venture between the Ministry of Communication (51%) and Grupo Domos of Mexico (49%). Domos committed to invest $1.5 billion. In April, 1995, Domos sold 25% of their interest to Societa Finanziaria Telefonica, p. a. (STET), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Italian State Telecommunication Company for $291.2 million. Press reported that as of late 1995 very little progress had been made on the modernization of Cuban telecommunications, and it was rumored that Domos was seeking other investors (including AT&T at the time).

Due in part to the collapse of the Mexican peso and pressure after the Helms-Burton Bill passed, Domos failed to raise additional capital. This, coupled with poor management, resulted in their being in default on the investment required under their agreement with ETECSA, and they lost their equity. As of February, 1997, STET controls 29.29% of ETECSA, the Cuban government 49%, and a coalition of banks the remainder.

The new investment and increased level of control by STET seem to have had a positive effect. By 2004, ETECSA plans to increase the number of lines per 100 inhabitants to 20 in Havana, 10 in provincial capitals and principle cities, and 9 nationwide. All cities over 500 people will have service including a phone for local government, the local family doctor and public phones. This will be the case even in the mountainous regions.

Public telephones are being installed in news stands and other centers, and others are being replaced. The goal is to have 50,000 public phones by 2004. Today there are 50,000 lines in the private switchboards of organizations, and they hope to see that increase to 200,000 by 2002.

The plan is ahead of schedule, and they now hope to meet these goals by 2002 instead of 2004. A fiber ring has been completed in Havana, and at least two digital switches installed since 1995. STET's new presence is palpable -- STET officials are living in Havana, and there are many ETECSA panel trucks in the city. In 1995, one barely saw any new vehicles from the phone company or anywhere else.

STET also plans a national digital backbone of microwave and fiber. The current backbone is analog microwave, and is saturated. They are also working on a National Data Transmission Network (NDTW). The six main nodes will be in Havana, Pinar del Rio, Santiago de Cuba, Camaguey, Holguin, and Santa Clara. Secondary nodes will branch from them to adjacent provinces. The links to the main nodes are now in the testing stage and nearly completed. At least some of these links will run at 35 Mb/s initially, and they will utilize Alcatel equipment capable of operation at 155 Mb/s.

The NDTW will initially use X.25. There has been some debate on this choice (for example, at the Ariadna Networking Conference in May, 1996). ETECSA realizes that X.25 is old technology, but argues that there is much X.25 equipment and expertise in Cuba today. The equipment they are installing is faster than that used in RENACYT and other early Cuban X.25 networks, and it will support IP encapsulation (inefficiently). By the year 2000, they also hope to be offering frame relay service in some areas. They will run IP over frame-relay at 2 Mb/s, and install servers at provincial nodes. (This sounds like it could evolve into entry into the Internet service market -- for example the hosting of Web sites on those servers).

It is not clear to what extent the NDTW and the X.25 network being deployed by GET overlap or are the same. GET may be a customer of the NDTW, may be deploying their own infrastructure, or a mixture of both.

Difficulty Attracting Capital

Cuba is just beginning to recover from the devastating effects of the loss of most of its communist-block trade and the loss of Soviet subsidies in sugar and oil trade. That, in conjunction with the US embargo and the reluctance of capitalists to invest in a communist state, has made it difficult for Cuba to attract capital.

These drawbacks are mitigated to some extent by education level and good health of the Cuban workforce. Foreign enterprises do not hire workers directly, but contract with the state for employees. The government receives a payment of $3-500 per month for a skilled worker, and the employee is paid in pesos, but almost always receives a dollar bonus in goods or cash. Within the free trade zones, firms are permitted to have the terms of the bonus payments included in each employment contract.

Thus the government imposes a tax on employment, and probably also regulates many aspects of employee relations and policy, which may discourage investors. On the other hand, the government assumes much of the responsibility for educating, feeding and housing the employees, and a healthy, well educated work force is of course attractive to investors. While this arrangement may produce some market inefficiency, it has the socially valuable effect of insulating the necessity economy from the luxury economy, and, in the long run, may turn out to give Cuba a relative advantage.

Regardless of the long run, economic difficulty has made computers, telecommunication equipment, international phone links, software, networking equipment, etc. expensive during the years of rapid Internet expansion in other nations. Even when scarce capital was available, proposals for funds for Internet connectivity were met with the argument that the money was needed for necessities like medicine. More than other nations, Cuba's limited networking capital has been used for training and investment in internal capability rather than equipment, communication links, and service charges required for international Internet connectivity.

Cultural Values

Cuba has moved slowly out of concern for the preservation of the values of the nation. This has limited pervasiveness, and may have been a consideration in the decision to consolidate connectivity in CENIAI.

Many nations share Cuban concern over the erosion of cultural values by communication media, including the Internet. Concerns and regulations on the use of local languages and pornography are common in many nations, and these are present in Cuba as well.

However, Cuba is further concerned because of its socialist economy and political philosophy. CITMA Minister Rosa Elena Simeon stated that Cuba must learn how to "use the Internet's capabilities and advantages while reducing its risks and disadvantages as much as possible ... The First World uses the network to introduce viewpoints that work to the detriment of the ethical and cultural values of developing nations." With the fall of European communism, there is a fear that the achievements of the Cuban revolution may be at risk. A Cuban slogan points out that there are 200 million homeless children in the world, and none of them are in Cuba. This is sadly not the case in Rumania or Russia, or, for that matter, in the US. Cuba has observed the rapid commercial domination of the Internet, in many and commercial values often conflict with those they wish to protect.

The revolution is still present in Cuban consciousness, and there is awareness and frequent reference to its achievements: improved education, health care, and equality. These achievements are recognized by a substantial portion of the public.

 

Centralized Planning

Cuban networking has also been delayed in order to settle the responsibilities of various networking institutions. The cautious decision making process is shaped by the communist party and centralized economy, and has delayed the diffusion of the Internet and the building of organizational infrastructure. Without a market to allocate resources, government must decide on investment levels and assign tasks.

Large decisions like whether to connect to the Internet or who should be responsible for doing so are not made by a single body or according to a simple procedure, they emerge over time out of the activity of the entire government. The extent to which these decisions are influenced by power struggles among organizations and people rather than objective evaluation and decision making is unknowable -- there is doubtless a mix of both.

Cuban computing dates back to the early 1960s. By 1963, there were only three computers in Cuba. In 1964, the Center of Industrial Automation was formed within the Ministry of Industry to work on sugar industry automation and the Ministry of Communication established the Central Communication Laboratory for data communication research. The Ministry of the Interior was also involved with automated data processing. In 1968, a "Calculation Plan" was made, and in 1969, a decree of Fidel Castro established the University of Havana Center for Digital Research (the organization preceding GET) to build Cuban computers. They built a series of computers based on other's designs, including microcomputers in the 1980s.

CENIAI was founded in 1983 with three people; it grew to 80 by 1989, and was down to 62 in 1992. CENIAI and IDICT were part of the Academy of Science until AID was formed in 1994. More recently, CITMA moved the organization containing RENACYT to AID.

In April, 1991, the Office of the Ideological Secretary of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (Carlos Aldana) approved the establishment of an email connection between Cuba and Canada, opening the way for UUCP email to the Internet and participation in Usenet News groups. By 1992, CENIAI, Infomed, TinoRed, and CIGB all had international UUCP links. By 1995, each of these networks had expanded significantly, and were connecting other networks.

Cuba also built technical expertise with UUCP and IP networking during this time. For example a CIGB staff member attended and subsequently was an instructor in the Internet Society Developing Nations Workshops, and CIGB hosted an IP Technology Workshop in Havana in 1995. Practical experience played an even more important role than study. Faced with severe shortages of money and information, Cuban engineers were forced to be resourceful and patient. When asked how he began working with Ethernet LANs, an Infomed engineer remarked that he "got two Ethernet boards, a piece of coaxial cable, and began experimenting."

While budgets and the poor telephone infrastructure restricted Cuba (and other developing nations) to UUCP networks at first, engineers realized that IP networking was standard in developed nations, and CENIAI and CIGB began experimenting with IP. CENIAI had proposed IP connectivity in 1993. In 1994, CIGB obtained a class C Internet address, and in January, 1995, CENIAI obtained a class B address

It was clear that there was considerable demand for connectivity and enthusiasm in the networking community, but it was too important to be left to engineers. A CENIAI official estimated that there were approximately 3,000 email accounts in October, 1997. This indicates little or no growth during the last two years -- political considerations slowed development.

Still, the value of the Internet became increasingly clear. The Cubaweb Web site was established by GET in Canada, demonstrating that business could be generated and that information flowed both ways on the Internet. Infomed received funding, and expanded their network from Havana to the provinces. At the Fifth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, Carlos Lage, Secretary of the Executive Council of Ministers, spoke of the growing importance of computer-based communications, pointing out that "one telex can cost twelve dollars [whereas] the same message costs 75 cents in the form of a fax and 3 cents via the Internet," and he expressed confidence that "in spite of our blockaded circumstances, we are in a relatively good position [to face the challenges of such scientific and technological changes], due to the educational and scientific work developed by the revolution."

In May, 1996, CITMA held The Ariadna '96 National Congress on Telematics, bringing together the Cuban networking community. Over 400 people tried to register for the conference, but only 280 were able to attend due to space limitations. The organizing committee was chaired by Jesus Martinez, Director of CENIAI, and six of the fourteen committee members came from IDICT organizations. The remainder of the representatives came from ICIMAF (now under AID), Instituto Superior Politécnico

"José Antonio Echeverría" (ISPJAE), CIGB, Infomed, GET, The Center for Design of Automated Systems, and SEGURMATICA. The conference included plenary sessions by people from CIGB and Infomed, and IDICT, RENACYT, Infomed and GET were among the 7 exhibitors. GET demonstrated Web access over a 9.6kb/s SLIP connection to New York. This exhibit was very popular, and was probably most attendee's first viewing of a graphical Web browser accessing an Internet server. It is noteworthy that ETECSA was not represented, though an ETECSA engineer did deliver a talk in which he discussed ATM as a future possibility.

While Ariadna was the first networking conference, it should be noted that SIME, with UNESCO support, has hosted Informatica, an important biannual conference (actually a collection of independent technical conferences) and trade show since 1988. Informatica '92 and '94 are discussed in Press. Informatica '96 had 11 technical conferences with 503 papers and was attended by over 450 foreign delegates from 39 nations and over 900 Cubans. The trade show had exhibits from 216 firms (92 foreign), and was attended an estimated 15,000 people.

The Informatica '98 organization committee is presided over by SIME staff with collaboration on the technical and program committee from others including the Ministry of Higher Education, CITMA (CENIAI and The Center for Design of Automated Systems), and representatives of the Federation of European Multimedia and the University of Colima, Mexico. Informatica 2000 will be organized by CITMA and moved from the Convention Center to the Capitol Building which CITMA is refurbishing as a meeting center.

In June, 1996, the Executive Committee of the Cuban Council of Ministers issued Decree 209 regulating the use and development of information networks and Internet services within Cuba. An Inter-ministerial Commission to regulate access and manage networking was established. The commission represents five ministries: CITMA, Communications, Interior, Justice, and the Armed Forces, and is presided over by SIME. Thus the parent organizations of CENIAI, GET, and ETECSA are represented on the Commission, and Interior, Justice, and the Armed Forces are present to represent interests of national security, political control and protection of values and culture.

These interests are reflected in the charge that the Commission develops policies and a strategy consonant with Cuba's culture, development needs, and the interests of "national defense and security." The Commission is responsible for tracking technological change and "coherent behavior of the various central state administrative agencies" in order to conserve scarce resources. The decree states that it is necessary to insure that information transmitted from Cuba is truthful and the information Cuba receives is "in accordance with Cuba's ethical principles and not harmful to the country's interests and security." Network access priority is given to "institutions considered the most significant in the country's life and development" and, for now, only legally recognized enterprises and institutions, not individuals, will have access. Cuban officials point out that the latter point is moot in this period of scarce resources since few private individuals have computers or can afford Internet accounts.

In September, 1996, Jesus Martinez emailed an announcement of CENIAI's connection to the Internet; in October it was operational; and by February, 1997, the administration of the .cu domain had been transferred from Canada to CENIAI. As far as Web/NIRV and GreenNet know, there are no longer any UUCP feeds to Cuba, which means international traffic is centralized with CENIAI. This produces economies of scale in operation, and also facilitates control over access and content.

In November, 1997, the Inter-ministerial Commission was to have published a Strategic Plan for Information.

It seems that Cuba decided to link cautiously to the Internet, but will continue to stress internal connectivity. Even if international connectivity and bandwidth had been more affordable, the strategy of investing internally, in computers, networking equipment, telecommunication infrastructure, and, most importantly, in human capital -- networking technicians and trained, demanding users -- would have been quite reasonable. Where they need bandwidth, for example in marketing tourism, they simply establish a server in North America.

It appears that the major Internet implementation ministry is CITMA, with AID, but SIME is represented by GET, and the Ministry of Communication with ETECSA. GET has been more aggressive using servers in North America. Other Ministries are overseeing the impact of the Internet, and security and control over access and content are still high priorities, and are relatively easy to assure with the centralization of international connectivity at CENIAI. Singapore-style Web proxies, email filtering, and firewalls would be relatively easy, especially at today's low levels of traffic.

Protecting Embargoed Business Activity

Foster, reports that a major concern of the Inter-ministerial Commission was that information about Cuba's trading partners would leak out over the Internet to the United States, and be used to tighten the embargo. Indeed there is already considerable third party information concerning organizations and nations trading with and investing in Cuba. For example, The US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council reports that an estimated 4,500 companies have been cited in the international media as having or discussing commercial activities with enterprises within Cuba, and they list three pages of examples of major Latin American and European companies. They also state that foreign investment of $5.901 billion has been announced and $1.246 billion committed or delivered between 1990 and October 10, 1997.

Propaganda

Cuba has lived with Radio and TV Marti for many years, and has used scarce resources in an attempt to jam them. They do not allow the free flow of information from, to, or within the nation, and the fear that the Internet may lead to greater freedom of expression and thought has caused resistance to it. At the same time, there is recognition that the Internet can be a source of economic productivity, improved health care, education, and quality of life. This presents a "dictator's dilemma" -- the desire to have the benefits of the Internet without the threat of political instability. How do you give people access to information for health care, education, and commerce while keeping them from political information?

Cuba has experienced Internet propaganda. For example, in the Fall, 1993, the US Interest Section in the Swiss Embassy in Havana obtained an account on TinoRed, enabling them to send email to many Cuban accounts. They used this to send material about the United States and US government policy on Cuba to lists of Cubans. This was no more welcome by the Cuban government than Radio or TV Marti broadcasts, and the account was canceled. In 1994, lists of Cuban email addresses became available, and unsolicited anti-government material was sent to many people in Cuba. Such messages were seen as a threat, and efforts were made to block them. At the time, Cuban colleagues stated that such actions put Cuban networking at risk, and, on June 30, 1994, the Ministry of Communication issued a resolution intended to centralize all networking activities. Cuba is also aware of the existence of anti-Castro web sites like that of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF).

At the same time, the Internet offers Cuba a propaganda opportunity -- it is home to the Cuba Solidarity web site as well as the CANF site. Table 10 shows a selection of Cuban controlled sources of political information on the Internet.

 

Table 10 Selected Sources of Information Controlled from Cuba

*Granma International: http://www.cubaweb.cu/granma/

*Granma International: http://www.granma.cu/

*Granma Nacional: http://206.130.183.236/

*Juventad Rebelde: http://www.cubaweb.cu/jrebelde/

*Juventud Rebelde: http://206.130.183.221/

*Prensa Latina: http://www.prensa-latina.org/

*Radio Havana Cuba: http://www.radiohc.org/

*Trabajadores Digital: http://206.130.183.217/

Cubavision (TV): http://www.ceniai.inf.cu/CUBAVISION

Habanera Magazine: http://www.ceniai.inf.cu/HABANERA

* = Server in North America.

 

 

Still, one must question the propaganda value of the Internet for either side. The Cuban revolution is nearly 40 years old, so opinions are rather set on both sides. Cuba has made skillful use of their tightly controlled radio, television, and press, and a charismatic leader to form public opinion during that time. One wonders how effective a low-bandwidth medium like today's Cuban Internet could be in swaying that opinion. It is likely that the brief period during which many Cubans had access to uncensored US TV programs and commercials via now-banned satellite dishes may have had a more profound impact on Cuban public opinion than years of email would.

The Gallup Poll referred to earlier found Radio Marti broadcasts much more popular among the 23% alienated from the government than among those who were disengaged or pro-government. Forty three percent of the alienated group mentioned Radio Marti as one of the three stations they have listened to most frequently during the prior two months, while only five percent of the pro-government respondents and nineteen percent of the disengaged did. Similarly, it is difficult to imagine the Cuban Solidarity web server having an impact in the anti-Castro community in Miami.

Global experience shows that the commercial value of the Internet far exceeds its propaganda value. To date, Cuba's primary external Internet application has been selling tourism. It is difficult to judge the contribution of Web servers to steadily increasing Cuban tourism, but web sites as popular as Cubaweb must easily cover their costs, and Cuba has wisely chosen not to jeopardize that asset with blatant propaganda. On both sides, Internet propaganda is low-bandwidth preaching to the choir.

Threat of use by subversive organizations

There may be cases in which the Internet has more propaganda impact than in Cuba, for example, in Chiapas, where events are relatively recent, and news comes directly from the principles without mediation; however, the logistical use of networks by politically hostile organizations appears to be perceived as a bigger threat, and may have led to the loss of NGO email accounts.

This logistical use may occur during a crisis as, for example, during the Soviet Coup attempt, the Internet (Usenet News groups) brought information into and out of the Soviet Union and circulated information within. The information coming in had no value as propaganda, but did inform the people receiving it of world opinion, and they could know they were not alone. For example, Polina Antonov who handled much of the Soviet communication during the coup attempt wrote "maybe you'd write me what do they say on your TV about the situation, as we can't watch CNN now. ... They try to close all mass media, they stopped CNN an hour ago, and Soviet TV transmits opera and old movies." Afterwards she wrote "You can't even imagine how grateful we are for your help and support in this terrible time! The best thing is to know that we aren't alone." Another Russian posted the following to a news group "When the dark night fell upon Moscow, Relcom was one source of light for us. Thanks to these brave people we could get information and hope."

Even more important, was logistical information circulating within the Soviet Union, for example this message from Nizhniy Novgorod: "Yesterday at 17:00 a rally in support of Yeltsin was held; regional deputies participated. Today at 17:00 there will be a rally in the city center where a strike committee will be formed. ... The atmosphere is calm in the city, there are no troops to be seen."

Note that this was UUCP traffic over dial-up phone lines, which would have been difficult to detect and stop had the authorities wished to. When asked about the danger of detection, Polina wrote "Yes, we already prepared to shift to underground; you know -- reserve nodes, backup channel, hidden locations. They'll have a hard time catching us!" They also began using portable computers, and Polina wrote "Don't worry; the only danger for us is if they catch and arrest us, as we are sitting at home (Valera is at Demos) and distributing all the information we have".

Even without a crisis situation, NGOs were seen as potentially subversive. In March, 1996, Raul Castro stated:

[T]he enemy does not conceal its intention to use some of the so-called non-governmental organizations (NGOs) established in Cuba in recent times, as a Trojan horse to foment division and subversion here, and the theoretical cover they give them is to present them as members of civil society ...

There are also many NGOs throughout the world that are not enemies of the people; many of them encourage solidarity with Cuba, respecting its independence, its national identity and its socialist path. ... But we would be extremely stupid if we pretended not to see the manipulation that is being carried out through other supposed NGOs whose only aim is to enslave our country once again and turn it into something akin to an even more dependent Puerto Rico.

In the same speech he refers to the Soviet experience with NGOs, citing his reading of an analysis by US scholar Gillian Gunn:

Glasnost gave rise to a proliferation of Soviet NGOs, and the Moscow press stated in 1988 that some 40,000 clubs and associations had been set up. The close ties between Havana and Moscow at that time exposed Cuban intellectuals to many of these groups, which supported such things as religious freedom, popular culture, environmental protection and socioeconomic reform.

Castro continued, speaking of press freedom in general, stating that "The glasnost which undermined the USSR and other socialist countries consisted in handing over the mass media, one by one, to the enemies of socialism." It is noteworthy that these remarks were presented at the same Plenum as Carlos Lage's call for increased use of networks.

A Cuban official corroborated this concern over the role of hostile NGOs in the downfall of the USSR. He also cited the Helms-Burton Act as encouraging NGOs within Cuba to work toward democracy building and turning out the Castro government since section 209 of the act authorizes the President "to furnish assistance and provide other support for individuals and independent non-governmental organizations to support democracy-building efforts for Cuba." The Act directs the president to "take the necessary steps to encourage the Organization of American States to create a special emergency fund for the explicit purpose of deploying human rights observers, election support, and election observation in Cuba," and the President is directed to provide "not less than $5,000,000 of the voluntary contributions of the United States to the Organization of American States solely for the purposes of the special fund."

While Cuba has allowed the Internet to progress, it has done so carefully. Users must be authorized, and nearly all access is through work. Many NGOs had Cuban email accounts in 1995. Press lists 31 such organizations. These were connected through Red David, which linked internationally through TinoRed, but it appears that TinoRed is no longer providing accounts to the Red David NGOs. Infomed regulates access and content. Infomed accounts may not be used by third persons or for lucrative or personal purposes. Information distributed on the network must be relevant to the objectives of MINSAP and the network and in accord with revolutionary principles. Users, their institutions, and network administrators are responsible for reporting transgressions if they are discovered.

These changes and restrictions could have been motivated by economics, political concerns, or most likely, a mixture of both. Similarly, all international traffic is now carried by CENIAI, whereas CENIAI, Infomed, TinoRed and CIGBnet all had international UUCP links in the past. While this makes economic sense, it also provides a single point of control for content or access. It also facilitates efforts to guard against hackers attempting to steal or corrupt information.

 

Non-Commercial Orientation

In most, but not all nations, the Internet begins with academic and research networks. These are typically eclipsed by commercial networks which rapidly attract capital, enabling the diffusion of the Internet. Cuban networking also began in research (CENIAI was at that time a part of the Cuban National Academy of Science), but has not moved to a phase of rapid commercial growth. As such, the sectoral absorption balance is atypical, with relatively little private or government commercial networking.. This emphasis reflects both the values of a communist state and difficulty in capital formation.

As seen in Table 11, com and net are growing faster than other generic top-level domains. While there is commercial activity in Cuba (most visibly, the external Web sites), the primary purposes of Infomed, TinoRed, and CIGBnet are improved health care, education, and research. Even Teledatos, which began as a tourist network, is now working with ETECSA on infrastructure, and is connecting ministries and provincial governments.

 

Table 11 Generic top-level domain growth, 1995-1997

 

Domain

Jan, 95

July, 97

Increase

 

       

com

1,316,966

4,501,039

3,184,073

242%

net

150,299

2,164,815

2,014,516

1340%

edu

1,133,502

2,942,714

1,809,212

160%

mil

175,961

542,295

366,334

208%

org

154,578

434,654

280,076

181%

gov

209,345

418,576

209,231

100%

int

904

724

(180)

-20%

         

Total

3,141,555

11,004,817

7,863,262

250%

Source: Network Wizards, http://www.nw.com.

 

 

The opening ceremony of the Info '97 Conference in Havana was illustrative of Cuba's emphasis. The keynote address was given by Osvaldo Bebelagua, AID President. Bebelagua opened his address with a poem:

He who knows how to walk,

by walking will always arrive.

Even the blind dove

knows how to fly to his nest.

...

But, you should not rest on the

way I have shown you,

the way I am never far from,

although everyone abandons me.

Since on a young path,

no traveler is old.

He went on to speak of hopes and fears for a networked society, stressing his concern that the Internet may lead to increased gaps between rich and poor nations and people within nations. His talk was followed by a chamber music performance.

A US computing conference would not begin with such a keynote. It would be optimistic and probably product oriented, with no time for ambivalence, poetry or chamber music. Though he is clearly concerned with economic viability, Bebelagua is not as focused as Bill Gates on quarterly financial results.

This non-commercial emphasis is consistent with the expressed philosophy and policies of the Cuban government. On the other hand, it may be a transient, start-up condition, tied to hard currency opportunities. Infomed was jump-started with UNDP funds, and TinoRed with support from Fidel Castro. In the future, CIGB may invest increasingly in network support for product marketing, banking and tourism networks may rapidly outgrow Infomed and TinoRed, and their technicians may be hired away to build commercial networks and web servers; however, that has not been the case to date.

More likely we will see a different balance between commercial and non-commercial applications than in capitalist nations. There will doubtless be more commercial networking, like GET's externally-hosted web sites, but the Cuban government will insist on non-commercial development as well. Commercialization may rapidly attract capital to networking, but, as anywhere, the Cuban network will also reflect the values of the society, even if that slows diffusion somewhat.

Populist History

Cuba's history of revolution from the countryside against the established power in Havana has led to atypical geographic dispersion of networks (and telecommunication infrastructure). Network activity begins in one city or even one organization, and, particularly in developing nations, often remains concentrated in the capital. For example, in 29 African nations, Internet connectivity is confined to one city, and in 7 others only two. (See Table 12). While Havana is the hub city for all national networks, and the majority of resources are there, Cuban networking is atypically dispersed. This dispersion began with the telephone system. As we saw, post-revolutionary Cuba built provincial and rural telephony faster than in Havana, even though there is considerable need and demand there. The current ETECSA plan also stresses national telephony and data networking. Infomed and TinoRed were from their inception national networks.

Table 12: African Connectivity

 

Number of

Availability

nations

No connectivity

7

Store-forward only

3

IP in capital only

29

IP in second city

7

IP nation wide (local dial up)

8

Total

54

Source: Jensen, Mike, The Current Status of Connectivity in Africa, December, 1997, http://demiurge.wn.apc.org:80/africa/afstat.htm.

 

If Cuba retains this geographic balance, we may learn something of the ability of networks to improve quality of life. There has been massive global migration to cities during the last 30 years, and the UNDP estimates that future migration rates will be high in less developed nations. The resulting crowding and urban poverty have been sources of social unrest and environmental disaster. These migrations are in search of education, health care, work, and fuller participation in the world. If networks can lead to improvements in rural or town life, fewer may feel compelled to move. Implicitly or explicitly, infrastructure planning is social planning.

Perhaps breadth of choice is at the heart of quality of life. A rural life may be desirable if it is freely chosen, rather than imposed by necessity. Choice implies awareness, and communication technology expands horizons, making us aware of vocational, political, and value issues and alternatives. This issue is also tied to productivity -- prosperous nations involve a high percentage of the population in intellectual and economic life.

Human Capital

As we have seen, Cuba has concentrated on internal development rather than international connectivity. In difficult financial times, people's time is relatively more plentiful than equipment, making training a good investment. The Cuban government has also traditionally stressed education, and their literacy rate and levels of education reflect this emphasis. Networks require trained technicians and trained, demanding users, and we will consider both.

Cuban networking technicians are reminiscent of the earliest days of personal computing in the US or the early Interop Conferences in the networking community. There is a feeling of enthusiasm, openness, resourcefulness, and purpose. Technicians are eager to talk about their work and its importance, and they have learned to improvise and be persistent. There has been some participation in international workshops and conferences, and the University of Havana and ISPJAE have a history of involvement in data communication, but most networking technicians seem to have learned on the job.

This practical training is of course restricted by the technology in use. This hurdle is most evident in telecommunications, where experience with X.25 networks seems to be driving implementation decisions. Cuba has developed, manufactured, and used X.25 equipment for many years, but that is not the ideal technology for a new generation of technicians to learn. The required skill mix will shift substantially when more capital is available.

Limited access to hardware and information impedes learning at all levels. Time is wasted by 2,400 bps data transfers, and constant redialing to make connections. Cuban technicians cannot log onto the Internet and download the latest version of a driver or hardware documentation, and one sees very few technical books or periodicals.

Cuba's guarded attitude toward information and lack of Internet connectivity are a clear constraint in this area. They have a strong record of technical education with 1.8 scientists and engineers per 1,000 population, 40 universities and other centers of higher education, and over 200 research and development centers, and they devote 1.17% of GDP to technological research and development. However, it will be difficult to maintain traditional educational levels and quality without openness to information.

Current software is more readily available than current hardware. Each of the major networking organizations has Unix or Windows NT system administrators, database technicians, Web developers, etc. In 1992, we were struck by a lack of sophistication in software user interfaces and development technique, but the situation seems to have improved somewhat. There are many machines running Windows 95 in the networking organizations, and current versions of development tools and software packages are readily available; however, the installed base is still primarily DOS PCs.

The Youth Computer Clubs, described above, are a uniquely Cuban organization for computer literacy and user training. They are geographically dispersed and free of charge, and they offer unstructured access to computers and software as well as traditional classes.

While this is admirable, user training on the job or in the home is limited. Few people have access to computers at home or work. Network access is also limited. People are not allowed private accounts. Access at work is uncommon, and when present, typically email only and via a shared account. Such controlled access keeps users from experimenting and learning by doing.

Conclusions and Prospects

The following are several summary and concluding observations which follow from the above.

Cuban Networks and Telecommunication

Decision Making

Particularly Cuban Characteristics

Looking to the future, we would expect movement along our various dimensions because major decisions have now been made regarding Internet policy; however, ongoing economic problems, poor telecommunication infrastructure, political ambivalence limiting access and content, difficulty in attracting investment, and so forth will slow that movement.

Pervasiveness: Internet access in Cuba is restricted by policy, but if that limitation were lifted tomorrow, the level of penetration would remain low. In today's economy, few Cuban's could afford either computers or Internet accounts, and the telecommunication infrastructure could not support widespread access.

Geographic dispersion: As long as the present regime remains in power, atypical emphases on geographic dispersion within Cuba is likely.

Sectoral absorption: As long as the present regime remains in power, atypical emphasis in the health, education, and government sectors relative to the commercial sector is likely.

Connectivity infrastructure: Connectivity infrastructure is severely constrained by the poor telecommunication infrastructure. Significant investment will be needed to modernize it, and it is not likely that that will occur rapidly under the current regime.

Organizational infrastructure: Today networking organizations are controlled by the Ministries of CITMA and SIME, and CITMA seems to have taken the lead, and oversight is provided by the Inter-ministerial Commission. Perhaps the most likely change is that the Ministry of Telecommunication, through ETECSA, may also become an internet service provider. Other vendors may be invited in (possibly by these Ministries) in order to attract capital.

Sophistication of use: It will be some time before Cuban applications become more sophisticated, as this will require greater pervasiveness.

 

 

Glossary

AID: Agency for Information for Development.

AID is the information technology umbrella agency within CITMA.

CENIAI: Center for Automated Exchange of Information

CENIAI operates the Cuban DNS and international link.

CIDET: Center for Teleinformatic Research and Development

CIDET has a long history of x.25 networking.

CIGB: Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology

CIGB operated one of the original UUCP links to Canada, and has a multi-city network.

CITMA: Ministry for Science, Technology, and the Environment

CITMA, which includes AID, ICID and CENIA, has a major interest in networking.

ETECSA: Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba, S. A.

ETECSA is the Cuban telephone company.

GET: Group for Electronics in Tourism

GET is the organization which operates the Teledatos network.

ICID: Central Institute for Digital Research

ICID, part of SIME, built early Cuban computers.

ICIMAF: Institute of Cybernetics, Mathematics, and Physics

ICIMAF operates RENACYT.

IDICT: Institute for Scientific and Technological Information

IDICT is the AID division which contains CENIAI.

ISPJAE: Instituto Superior Politecnico Jose Antonio Echeverra

IPSJAE is a leading technology university.

MINSAP: Ministry of Public Health

MINSAP operates the Infomed network.

NDTW: National Data Transmission Network

NDTW is the digital network being deployed by ETECSA.

RENACYT: National Network for Science and Technology

RENACYT is an x.25 network which provides UUCP links between many Cuban networks.

SIME: Ministry of Mechanical and Electrical Industries

SIME which includes GET/Teledatos, has a major interest in networking.

YCC: Youth Computer Club

The YCC operates walk-in computer and training centers in over 160 municipalities, and many of these have UUCP connectivity.