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Rationing the Digital: The Politics and Policy of Internet Use in Cuba Today

Internet Monitor Special Report Series No. 1

Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2013-15

17 Pages Posted: 11 Jul 2013  

Ellery Roberts Biddle

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Date Written: July 10, 2013

Abstract

Cuba has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in the Western hemisphere and is routinely ranked among countries with the highest restrictions on Internet use in the world. But within both categories, it is something of a rare bird.

While the precise number of Internet users in the country is difficult to calculate, it is clear that a lack of infrastructure, combined with economic and political hurdles, has left access to the global Internet out of reach for most Cubans. But this may soon change. This spring, the country’s only telecommunications firm, the state-owned ETECSA, activated two undersea fiber optic cables that are set to drastically increase connection speeds in Cuba; the firm also opened over 100 cybercafes across the island. Officials have since made public promises to increase access and lower currently exorbitant fees for Internet use. This could fundamentally change the island’s information economy.

Although Cuba is routinely listed alongside China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia as one of the most Internet-restrictive countries in the world, there is no conclusive evidence that the Cuban government practices widespread filtering. While a handful of websites related to dissident activity are blocked, Cubans who use the global Internet are able to browse the web and participate in digital communities without facing extensive content controls. But most don’t get this far. Although the country has an active national Intranet, access to the global Internet is availably mainly to those in high-skilled professional sectors and academia. The potential impact of digital media and the global Internet on Cuban society has been limited due to the lack of network access on the island. Yet this has not prevented the increasing circulation of digital media among the country’s nascent but growing community of tech-savvy citizens.

Suggested Citation

Biddle, Ellery Roberts, Rationing the Digital: The Politics and Policy of Internet Use in Cuba Today (July 10, 2013). Internet Monitor Special Report Series No. 1; Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2013-15. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2291721 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2291721

Ellery Roberts Biddle (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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