In the final project for the class, my group looked at Cuba’s telecommunications infrastructure, recent developments in this infrastructure, and implications for both Cuba and its people due to these and potential future developments. From the research we gathered, we found that Cuba is really on the cusp of a major shift in its connectivity with the rest of the world, and ultimately that could have a massive effect on the social, political, and economic structures of the country.
Raul Castro’s regime has been at the forefront of these changes, but his primary focus is improving Cuba’s internet architecture as a means of improving its economy, without surrendering the sociopolitical framework of the country – one built on socialist ideals. This is a tricky line to tread and Castro has done this by allowing for change, but very slowly and under the watchful eye of the government. Even with faster cable internet and new Wi-Fi hubs, the cost, speed, and ease of access to the internet is incredibly limiting for ordinary Cuban citizens. Cuba’s primary focus is on its internal intranet and is looking towards parallel socialist states, such as China, for not only hardware, but also internet policy, regarding monitoring and usage, as it expands its network externally. So while Cuba deliberates over what the internet will look like for its people, the people are slowly getting a taste of what the internet has to offer outside of Cuba’s historically restrictive lens – through both access via Wi-Fi and through alternative measures like “the packet,” the media and information content distributed throughout the island via hard and flash drives, as “the internet without internet.” This is creating an insatiable demand for the open internet and making it more difficult for the Cuban government to champion its intranet or its potentially heavily censored internet, modeled after the Chinese.
So what alternatives are there? From a development communication perspective, Google has a solution, one that it’s both offering to Cuba for free (or as an upfront loan) and one that Google has successfully implemented in both Ghana and Uganda: Google’s Project Link Initiative.
Project Link has brought fiber optic cables to both the cities of Kampala and Accra, with additional “wholesale last-mile Wi-Fi access” to Uganda. Project Link’s efforts have significantly increased connectivity in these urban hubs and work alongside local providers to allow them “to build networks they can leverage to provide better services to end users.” This initiative employs Waisboard’s notions of modernization, participatory, and empowerment perspectives to effectively strengthen social, educational, and financial networks in these developing cities to allow them to connect more readily and expand more rapidly. While Google provides the structure, it is fully implemented by the local providers and at the demands of the local consumers.
So could this work for Cuba? Theoretically, absolutely. In actuality? It’s more difficult to say. Google has already laid this offer out, but the Cuban government fears it’s a Trojan horse, loaded with political baggage and ready to dismantle the Cuban state. They have every right to be wary, but concern is abating due to last December’s re-establishment of diplomatic ties with the U.S. Cuba’s argument, on the surface, holds less credibility. Still, if the initiative was to move forward, the democratic revolution Cuba fears could more effectively take place. By giving the people access to a larger scope of outside information and ideas, Cuba could dramatically change right before our eyes. The Cuban government knows that, but how much longer can it keep that wall in place?
Unrelated, but I also really want to post this video on my blog as a send-off:
Thanks for keeping the conversation going, M.I.A.