By Scott McDonald– Newsweek
They’re literally on an island, isolated from most of the world.
That’s how it’s been for the people of Cuba for more than half a century, even in the last 20 years when the internet began connecting folks from almost every remote corner of the planet.
Though citizens of this Communist-run island nation have enjoyed somewhat limited internet access over the last few years, Cuba announced its people can begin using full internet access on their phones starting Thursday. But only at limited usage until the 3G network is ready.
Mayra Arevich, the president of Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETECSA), the telecommunications monopoly on the island, went on national TV Tuesday to announce the news.
The rollout will happen in stages between Thursday and Saturday to avoid an overload of users and potential outages. Gaining full internet access on a phone may seem archaic in the States, but in Cuba, it’s been a work in progress.
The nation finally authorized home internet use in 2017 in addition to hundreds of public Wi-Fi connection points in locales around the country.
Former Cuban dictator Raul Castro and former U.S. President Barack Obama declared detente in 2014 to expand internet access for the Cubans. It remains a low commodity as Cubans still have one of the world’s lowest rates of internet use, according to the Associated Press.
Despite President Donald Trump’s rollback of many of the Obama administration’s easements with Cuba, the Cubans haven’t wavered in their fervor for joining the information highway.
ETECSA vice president Tania Velázquez said after last year’s unsuccessful mobile network rollout, which backed up internet traffic, the new service would come online in stages to avoid the congestion that struck the mobile network during a series of heavily criticized tests this year.
Cuba’s government-controlled public internet access from the onset, starting with a limited number of state-run cafes in 2013. However, that access sparked the fire for Cubans to want more, leading to the 2014 Obama-Castro agreement.
Internet access is not free, though and it’s not cheap for Cubans. A data package for a cellphone is expected to begin around $7 for 600 megabytes and $30 for four gigabytes.
On average, many people in Cuba make about $30 a month.
Cuba doesn’t sensor most outside networks accept American-free or U.S.-funded sites and Television Marti networks and others that advocate for systematic change on the island.