Internet laggard Cuba plans to bring web to Havana homes by year-end

October 25, 2016 4:04 PM EDT

A tourist takes a selfie at Prado Boulevard in downtown Havana, Cuba, October 21, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini


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HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba, a few decades late to the internet era, plans to bring the web into some households in Havana by the end of the year, the Cuban News Agency (ACN) reported on Tuesday.

Communist-ruled Cuba has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in the world. While the government blames cost for lack of investment in infrastructure, critics suggest the real impediment is fear of losing control of the media.

So far, only 5 percent of the Cuban population is estimated to enjoy home-based internet, which requires special government permission. Usually this is granted mainly to academics, doctors and intellectuals.

The rest of Cuba's 11.2 million inhabitants must rely on Wi-Fi hotspots around the island and state internet parlors, although these are sparsely used because of high rates. The $2 hourly Wi-Fi tariff represents nearly 10 percent of the average state monthly salary.

A pilot project will bring the web at first into homes of 2,000 residents in Old Havana, ACN reported, citing a senior official at telecommunications monopoly ETECSA.

The necessary infrastructure has already been installed by Chinese company Huawei, although rates have not yet been decided, ACN reported ETECSA official Eudes Monier as saying.

ETECSA is also working on offering internet on mobile phones from 2017, ACN wrote.

Cuba currently has around 200 Wi-Fi hotspots nationwide and in September announced it would install Wi-Fi along Havana’s picturesque seafront boulevard, the Malecon.

The United States has set connectivity as a priority in its new relationship with Cuba. Telecommunications equipment, technology and services were among the first exemptions to the embargo after Washington and Havana announced on Dec. 17 they would restore diplomatic relations.

Cuba has meanwhile repeatedly charged that the United States wants to use telecommunications to subvert its government.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by David Gregorio)



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