Cuba’s new Internet locales remain conditioned

While other countries have Internet cafés, Cubans are joking that the communist government has just opened a string of “Internet Corrals.”

On Monday, the state telecommunications monopoly ETCSA opened 118 locales, each with an average of three terminals with Internet access, across the least Web-connected nation in the Western Hemisphere.

Users marveled at the relatively high speeds of the connections and their access to some Web pages once blocked by the government. Others, like Radio/TV Marti, the U.S. government broadcaster that transmits to the island, remain blocked.

But access to the Web at the “cyberpuntos” remained tightly conditioned — even chillingly so.

Users must show their national ID cards and sign an agreement that they will not use the service for anything “that could be considered … as damaging or harmful to the public security” — a vague term that presumably can include political dissidence.

And when users try to send out any attachments, ETECSA’s own NAUTA interface system greets them with a pop-up window that certainly appears to be a reminder that Big Brother is watching.

“When you send information to the Internet, other people may see what you are sending. Do you wish to continue?” the message says. Click yes or no.

The pop-up window is marked “Internet Explorer” and is known to be a real if infrequent message generated by that search engine. Yet several Cuban cybernauts said they never see that message when they use Internet cafes in Havana’s tourist hotels.

Havana journalist and blogger Ivan Garcia said he didn’t know what to make of the message. “It would be really sloppy for the authorities” to allow the message to pop-up, he said, “although the whole world knows everything can be monitored here.”

Most Cubans believe that the government’s security apparatus watches over virtually all Internet traffic into and out of the island, reads any private emails and steals passwords so that it can hack into accounts abroad, such as Gmail, Facebook and Twitter.

Most of the complaints so far against the 118 new Web access points — opened on Cuban ruler Raúl Castro’s 82nd birthday — have been not about the possible monitoring but about the high costs.

The $5 charged for one hour of surfing on the World Wide Web amounts to a week’s salary for the average government employee. Surfing the Cuba-only “Intranet” costs about 70 U.S. cents and access to a Cuban email account goes for about $1.65 per hour.

Cubans have one of the worst Internet access rates in the Western Hemisphere, with only 4 percent saying they had access to the Web and email in a public opinion survey by the International Republican Institute taken in January and February.

The International Telecommunications Union ranked Cuba in last place in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2011 when measured by broadband subscribers per 100 people and secure Internet servers for every 1 million people.

Read more Cuba stories from the Miami Herald

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