Cuban Networking Update {footnote 1}

OnTheInternet, pp 46-49, Jan/Feb, 1996.
Larry Press
Carlos Armas


An earlier article [7] summarized the state of Cuban networking in 1992. At that time, there was limited international connectivity via X.25 and a single, unreliable dial-up UUCP link. All international traffic was routed through CENIAI, the Center for Automated Interchange of Information of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, which also provided gateway service for several small intranational networks. Approximately twice a week Web/NIRV, an Association for Progressive Computing (APC) affiliate in Toronto, Canada, called CENIAI and exchanged international traffic. {footnote 2} At times communication would be interrupted for a week or more because of financial or technical problems.

In spite of the economic crisis and continued deterioration of an obsolete telephone infrastructure, Cuban networks have grown substantially since 1992.{footnote 3} Today, there are four networks with international connectivity, CENIAI, Tinored, CIGBnet, and InfoMed:

CENIAI began networking in 1982, and has had a UUCP link to the Internet since 1991. They currently offer email, database access, mail lists, and programming and consulting services, and maintain a presence on a Gopher server located in Uruguay. CENIAI has long wished international IP connectivity and a national backbone, and has a registered class-b IP address. They plan to offer dial-up PPP access in the near future.

Tinored (Tino Network -- Tino, a Cuban cartoon character, is the logo, and "red" means "network") was the established by the Cuban Youth Computer Clubs, an organization with explicit support of Fidel Castro, that operates 150 walk-in computer centers throughout the nation [8]. One hundred of these have Tinored email accounts, and approximately 80 have working (2400 bps) modems. Tinored is also a gateway for Red David, which supports at least 31 NGOs.

CIGBnet is the network of the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology and affiliated institutions [1]. They have a central site in Havana and three remote sites. CIGBnet began in 1991 and has grown to 900 users. They provide email, database access, a biological sequence server, mailing lists, and Gopher and Web servers (accessible only from the main center). CIGB staff have developed their own mail-based database server, off-line mail package, and sequencing server software, and they are continuing such work.

InfoMed, the network of the National System of Health Information of the Cuban Ministry of Health, has been operating since 1992. They have 500 accounts, 80% of which are shared by more than one person within an organization, and provide email, discussion groups, file retrieval, database search, and consultation. While they currently operate a single node in Havana, they are building a distributed network with 13 servers in Cuban medical schools with support from the Pan American Health Organization and UNESCO.

Table 1 summarizes the four networks with international gateways, and the more important subnetworks they serve.


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                            Table 1
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It should be stressed that these networks are not comparable to large university and corporate networks in North America or Western Europe. The smaller networks are typically time-sharing systems -- PCs running UNIX -- with accounts for local and remote individuals and organizations. Larger networks, like CENIAI and CIGBnet have Ethernet LANs, with Netware file servers and UNIX application servers. For example, the CIGB central location has four 486-based servers running Netware and four running UNIX.

Local users may have IP connectivity to the servers, but remote users have dial-up shell accounts or make UUCP transfers. Clients are nearly all PCs running DOS or Windows. They have 150 386 and 486-based client systems with 4-8 MB of RAM and 40-120 MB disks. (These are shared by 850 central-office users). Each of their three remote locations has a single PC running DOS, and communicating with the central office via UUCP over X.25 or 2400 bps dial-up. (These machines are shared by 100 remote users).

CENIAI, CIGBNet, and Tinored route their international traffic through Web/NIRV. According to Riff Fullan, Web/NIRV International Cooperation Coordinator, they call CIGBnet six times per day and Tinored twice daily [2]. CENIAI calls Web/NIRV 2-4 times daily, depending on needs. They plan to increase the Tinored call frequency to 6 shortly. Cuban traffic volumes in a typical month are shown in Table 2. InfoMed links through GreenNet, an APC affiliate in the UK. They have not yet responded to my request for traffic figures.



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                            Table 2
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There is also X.25 connectivity for interactive applications and the exchange UUCP traffic between networks. In 1992 CENIAI was Cuba's connection to IASnet, an X.25 network for socialist countries operated by VNIIPAS (The All Union Scientific Research Institute for Applied Computerized Systems) in Moscow. VNIIPAS had multiple links to Western data networks, including a link to Sprint. The link to IASnet has been discontinued, but there are three X.25 networks in Cuba today, Cubanet, RENACYT, and the tourism network.

Cubanet is a commercial network serving joint-venture enterprises and some tourism. It was formed by the people who had operated the original IASNet link at CENIAI, and is operated by Intertel, S. A., the international arm of the Cuban phone company, ETECSA, Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba, S. A.{footnote 4} Cubanet connects through an X.75 backbone to DATAPAC in Canada. The prices are such that it out of reach by the Cuban academic community. A dialup connection to Cubanet costs $32.00 per month plus usage charges of $0.31 per minute plus $0.34 per kilocharacter. These rates are high, but they provide reliable, interactive communication needed for financial transactions, credit card verification, hotel reservations, and so forth.

RENACYT, the National Network of Science and Technology belongs to the Ministry of Sciences, Technology and Environment, as does CENIAI. It is an academic/research network for UUCP exchange and limited interactive access, for example to the CIGBnet Gopher server. InfoMed, Tinored, CENIAI, CNCnet, Biomundi, ICIDnet, all use RENACYT as well as dial-up for UUCP exchange. For example, CIGBnet uses RENACYT for exchanges with CENIAI, InfoMed, and Tinored, and some sub-networks. In return, CIGBnet is their international UUCP gateway. The tourism network also exchanges traffic with RENACYT. RENACYT currently covers Ciudad Santiago de Cuba, Havana, and Matanzas, and they plan to expand to the Camaguey and Las Villas provinces.

The tourism network connects tourist hotels, providing credit card verification and financial transactions and reservation support, but I have been unable to determine details. I assume this connectivity is expensive, and that it could be carried more economically over an IP network if one were available. Furthermore, modern client-server tools such HTTP servers would seem to be more powerful both for marketing and reservations and for secure transaction and credit card processing

For perspective, Table 3 shows traffic figures and user estimates for Caribbean networks, compiled by Daniel Pimienta [6]. These estimates are quite conservative, and are challenged by Hahn [3] who estimates over 2,600 registered Caribbean users {footnote 5}.



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                            Table 3
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By either estimate, Cuban networks are significant. Without counting InfoMed, international Cuban traffic is 37.7% of the rest of the Caribbean. The Cuban active user counts in Table 1 total 3,386, and that table is incomplete. (I would expect internal Cuban traffic to be much higher than other Caribbean nations). So, in spite of the current economic blockade and crisis, Cuba is a major Caribbean networking nation.{footnote 6}

Cuba will eventually have IP connectivity, the only questions are when, and how it will be administered. Cuban networking began at CENIAI, and they have consistently worked for international IP connectivity. In February, 1995, they received permission from the Ministry of Science and Technology to establish an IP link for the academic community, and have a proposal pending, but it has not been funded [4, 5]. CENIAI and CIGBnet have both been using IP and IP-based servers internally for some time, and have sent people abroad for training.

More important, Cuba has developed a sizable user community, with networking skills and applications. This has grown out of a long standing commitment to education throughout the society, and major research, development, and therapy programs in biotechnology and medicine. Cuba has the expertise to operate an international IP link, and permission of the government. They are missing funding and a working agreement or plan for cooperation between the various networks, but these will be achieved.


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Footnotes:
  1. For further information on Cuban networking and a Spanish version of this paper, see http://som1.csudh.edu/fac/lpress/devnat/cuba/index.htm.
  2. APC was founded in 1989 to coordinate the operation and development of networks devoted to peace, ecology, human rights, and other "progressive" causes. As of August 1995, the APC has eighteen member networks, serving over 31,000 activists, educators, nonprofits and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in over 133 countries. APC also exchanges email and selected conferences with 40 partner networks worldwide, many of which are expected to become full APC members in the future. In September, 1995, APC was granted Consultative Status, Category 1, with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. This means APC can have a permanent representative at the UN, and is entitled to submit written statements to the Council, to be granted hearings, and to propose agenda items for consideration by the Council and its subsidiary bodies.
  3. With the Soviet collapse, Cuba lost around $4-5 billion in aid and subsidies, and their key trading partners. Foreign trade is approximately 25% of the 1989 level, and GDP 50%. The stringent demands of this "special period" have made it impossible to renovate or even maintain the telephone infrastructure.
  4. ETECSA was created by privatizing the phone company. It is owned by the Cuban government (51%), Grupo Domos of Mexico (37%), and STET of Italy (12%). The internal infrastructure is obsolete, and deteriorating rapidly, but investment has been promised.
  5. The discrepancy between Pimienta and Hahn reflects inconsistency in the definition of "user." In email follow-ups, Pimienta points out that many of the CUnet accounts are relatively inactive, and Hahn counters that Pimienta's figures are estimates based on traffic volumes and assumptions of traffic per user, while his are actual numbers of accounts. Furthermore, many users may share a single account. Both are correct. Many users make infrequent use of the Net because of cost, difficulty using the system, culture, and so forth.

    Such differences are not idle speculation. Network statistics are similar to census data, telephony statistics of the ITU, or economic statistics, and they are used to set policy and allocate resources. Of course they are not the entire picture, and we also need studies of the actual impact of networks are having on the intellectual and economic life of nations.

  6. Readers interested in on line discussion of Caribbean networking can join the list "caribuser" by sending a message saying "subscribe" to caribuser-request@dhvx20.csudh.edu.
References:

  1. Armas, Carlos, "Cuba," in the Eye on Developing Nations section, OnTheInternet, pp 38-39, July/August, 1995.
  2. Fullan, Riff, intlinfo@web.apc.org, personal communication.
  3. Hahn, Saul, Caribbean Networking Infrastructure, gopher://rip.psg.com/1m/networks/connect/caribbean, Oct. 2, 1995.
  4. Martinez, Jesus Alfonso, "Desarrollo de la Iniciativa Cubana Red CENIAI del al Academia de Siencias de Cuba," III Foro de Redes Academicas de la America Latina y El Caribe, Caracas, Venezuela, October 17-22, 1993.
  5. Martinez, Jesus, "Profile of the Cuban Scientific Network Project," email document, February, 1995.
  6. Pimienta, Daniel, "Daniel Pimineta on Caribbean Networking," gopher://rip.psg.com/1m/networks/connect/caribbean, June 12, 1995.
  7. Press, L. and Snyder, J., "A Look at Cuban Networks," Matrix News, 2(6), Matrix Information and Directory Services, Austin, June, 1992.
  8. Press, L., "Technetronic Education: Answers on the Cultural Horizon," Communications of the ACM, May, 1993, Vol. 36, No. 5, p 17-22.
Tables:

Table 1: Four International Networks and Selected Sub-Nets

1.  CIGBnet (950)

    UOnet:  Oriente University Network

    COMUH:  University of Havana network

    ICID (280):  Institute for Digital Research  

    RENACYT:  ICIMAF/CIDET Center for Research on Telematics 

    CNCNet (250):  Network of the National Neurosciences Center

    CRC:  Center for Clinical Research

    IMRE:  Reagents and Materials for Electronics Institute
    Binanet:  The network of the National Library

2.  CENIAI (732)

    ISPJAE/CUJAE:  Instituto Superior Politecnico Jose A. 
    Echevarria

    REDUNIV:  University Network for Scientific and Technological 
    Information of the Ministry of Education

    BIOMUNDI (39):  Biological Information Network

    UCLV:  Las Villas University network, using CENIAI 

    Red Granma:  Center of Documentation and scientific and 
    technological information

    Red Yayabo (50):  A regional network based in Ciudad Sancti 
    Spiritus, providing UUCP services to 6 institutions in that 
    province.  Has a PC XT with 640 K RAM, a 20 MB hard drive, 
    and a 9600 bps modem.

    Red Holguin:  A regional network based in Ciudad Holguin, 
    providing services to institutions in that province.

    Red Perla (62):  A regional network based in Ciudad Cienfuegos, 
    providing services to institutions in that province.

3.  TinoRed (413)

    Red David:  NGO Network

4.  InfoMed (500)

    Red Principe:  based in Ciudad Camaguey, it provides service 
    for Camaguey University, Camaguey Medical Sciences Faculty, 
    and some other enterprises and institutions.

Four Cuban networks have dial-up, international connectivity.  
This table lists them and some of the larger, more important 
subnets for which they are international gateways.  The numbers 
shown in parenthesis are the number of accounts which have been 
active at least once per month during the last 3 months.  

Sources:  Carlos Armas, CIGBnet, Jesus Maritnez, CENIAI, Carlos 
Valdes, Tinored, and Pedro Urra, InfoMed.  Sub-network user 
counts were obtained by Armas.
Table 2: Monthly Cuabn Internet Traffic (K bytes)

             Receive  Transmit Total

    Tinored   4689.29 12019.97 16709.26
    CENIAI   3945.366 12535.36 16480.72
    INGEN    4542.856 8897.882 13440.73

    Total    13177.51 33453.22 46630.73

    Source:  Fullen [2]
Table 3: Caribbean Internet Traffic
    Country              Traffic    Users Population
                        (MB/month)        (millions)

    Antigua and Bermuda     1.06        2     0.07
    Bahamas                 4.15        8     0.25
    Barbados                8.59       17     0.26
    Belize                 13.74       28     0.19
    Dominican Rep CUNET     3.62        7     7.00
    Dominican Rep REDID    60.00      120     7.00
    Grenada                 0.63        1     0.10
    Guyana                  0.10        1     0.80
    St. Lucia              11.72       24     0.14
    Vincent and Gren.       0.79        2     0.11
    Suriname                2.29        5     0.42
    Trinidad/Tobago        17.14       34     1.30

    Total                 123.83      249    17.64

    The user counts are estimates based on per-user traffic 
    assumptions.

    Source:  Daniel Pimienta, Carribean Network Traffic
    Figures, gopher://rip.psg.org/, June 12, 1995.
The estimates of numbers of Caribbean users shown in Table 4 were made by Daniel Pimienta, director of REDID, Red Dominicana de Intercambio para el Desarrollo, a pioneering Caribbean academic network.

The first is:

   gopher://rip.psg.com/0R26740-40227-/networks/connect/caribbean

   by Archie_MARSHALL@umail.umd.edu, which states that:

   "The addition of new UUCP nodes in Belize, Guyana, St. Vincent 
   and Trinidad has driven user levels well above the two 
   thousand (2,000) mark." 

Then in gopher://rip.psg.com/0R0-24217-/networks/connect/caribbean, 
Daniel makes very differnt estimates based on assumptions of 
traffic per user and CUnet traffic figures.


3.  Goodman, S., Press, L., Ruth, S., and Rutkowski, A., "The Global 
Diffusion of the Internet: Patterns and Problems," Communications 
of the ACM, Vol 37, No 8, pp 27-31, August, 1994.


8.  Mesher, G., Briggs, R., Goodman, S, Press, L., and Snyder, J., 
"Cuba, Communism, and Computing," Communications of the ACM, 
November, 1992.
5.  Marshall, Archie, private email, July 23, 1995.

10. Pimienta, Daniel, personal email message, xxxx, 1995.
Table 1: Cuban NGOs with Tinored (Red David) Accounts
     Centro de Estudios de Africa y Medio Oriente
     Centro de Estudios Europeos
     Casa de las Americas
     Centro de Estudios Martianos
     Centro de Estudios sobre Estados Unidos
     Centro de Estudios sobre Alternativas Politicas
     Centro de Investigaciones de la Economia Mundial
     Centro de Estudios de la Economia Cubana
     Movimiento Cubano por la Paz
     Grupo de Desarrollo Integral de la Capital
     Memoria de los Movimientos Populares de America Latina
     Centro Memorial "Martin Luther King"
     Centro "Felix Varela"
     Asociacion por la Unidad de Nuestra America
     Radio Habana-Cuba
     Centro de Estudios sobre Asia y Oceania
     Grupo de Desarrollo de la Bicicleta en Cuba
     Catedra "Pablo de la Torriente Brau"
     Consejo de Iglesias de Cuba
     Centro de Investigacion y Estudios de las Relaciones Interamericanas
     Centro de Investigacion de la Economia Internacional
     Centro de Informacion para la Prensa
     Federacion de Mujeres Cubanas
     Grupo para la Educacion sobre el SIDA
     Instituto  Superior Latinoamericano de Ajedrez
     Asociacion Cubana de Esperanto
     Alcoholicos Anonimos
     Union de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba
     Federacion de mujeres cubanas
     Editorial Jose Marti
     Consejo ecumenico de Cuba
Source: Carlos Valdes, Tinored System Administrator. (Valdes states there are some others, but he did not have their names at hand at the time of this message).