It’s official now, starting next month internet access in Cuban homes will be a reality and a legal one at that! It also means that guests at casas particulares in Havana and beyond will benefit from Wi-Fi internet access in their room, without having to step out in search of a public Wi-Fi hotspot as was previously necessary. There will also be no need for the infamous internet scratch cards sold at hotel lobbies and ETECSA kiosks.

A walker-by stops to check his phone in the heart of Old Havana
Walker-by stops to check his phone’s connection (or lack thereof) in the heart of Old Havana

Cuba’s Ministry of Communication (MINCOM) announced via the country’s “Gaceta Oficial” that the government will finally legally allow the import of routers and modems (previously banned) and the setting up of private internet networks for the first time.

It’s not like Cubans were completely unconnected prior to yesterday’s announcement. In fact, a series of not-so-secrete illegal networks operated around the country, allowing users to play online and share content. What the governments seeks by legalising unauthorised private Wi-Fi networks in Cuba is to not only hear the cries of a worn population tired of leaving in the 20th century but officially (as the official statement read):

“To contribute to the computerisation of society, the well-being of citizens, the sovereignty of the country and the prevention against the harmful effects of non-ionizing radiation.”

In not so many words, they’re moving with the times and finally heeding the call of so many information-thirsty Cubans.

Tourists had long complained of Cuba’s lack of internet connection and low speeds, whether staying in privately owned accommodation like casas particulares and other forms of bed and breakfast accommodation in Havana and beyond, the issue was the same. Internet connection was limited to public Wi-Fi hotspots in parks and hotel lobbies for which you had to purchase a scratch card from ETECSA (Cuba’s only telecommunication company) allowing you to get online for up to an hour each time.

Cubans have long been gearing up to the announcement made by the government yesterday and casas particulares will overjoy at the possibility of offering guests onsite internet access for the first time. In fact, given its private nature, the internet access that guests at casas particulares could enjoy could be better and faster (and potentially free) than that offered in hotels (which always comes with an attached fee and limitations). Starting 29th July, thousands of Cubans (among these owners of casas particulares too, no doubt) will be able to apply for a license to regulate their own data networks.

It’s great news not just for owners of casas particulares though, as private Wi-Fi could open up the possibility of privately-owned internet cafes, even when at this point this is pure speculation. State-owned internet cafes do exist since 2013 but prohibitive prices mean that it’s out of the reach of average Cubans and most tourists aren’t that happy to pay the price either.  In 2018 ETECSA had launched internet on mobile phones for Cubans and residents, with the massive caveat that the cheapest package started from $7 monthly and as such it was too hefty a price for the majority of the local population whose salaries doesn’t rise above $30 US dollars.

But at last, one of the least-connected places on the planet seems to be finally on their way to cheaper, more accessible online freedom. Even when the internet remains controlled by the government, each small baby step counts.