This article aims to explain the internet use in Cuba. If you are visiting Cuba and want to have a practical guide on how to stay connected, read our Internet in Cuba for Foreigners guide.
How do Cubans connect to the internet?
Cubans have the right to open an internet account called Nauta which they can put money into by buying tickets or paying directly in ETECSA offices. The money you put into your account sums up and can be kept for a long time. In other words, you bring your ID into one of these offices, ask for a new account (it is only possible to have one per person), and pay 1 CUC for every Internet hour you use since then. This is not an option to foreigners.
In practice, whenever Cubans get online they have to give their Nauta username and password. This means that the government can track every single persons internet use.
What types of Internet connection are there in Cuba?
Old school modems.
For many years, the only available way to connect to the internet in Cuba was through a modem with a maximum speed of 64 kb/sec. It is still common among those who are lucky to receive it legally from their workplaces and among foreigners who live in Cuba and is limited to a certain number of hours or data amount. Does it sound old school to you? Yes, it actually is like a time machine ride for those who barely remember this or a museum piece for the youngsters who never got to hear the sound of a modem trying to connect to the server.
Luckily, although it is slow, the development has already started in Cuba, and in some parts of the country a connection called “nauta-hogar” has started to appear. With a markedly higher speed (starting at 1 Mb/s), this option is attractive to many Cubans, but only affordable for a few, since it costs at least 15 CUC a month – a whole salary for many public workers – for 30 hours of Internet connection. Nonetheless, the majority of people hope to be able to acquire this service, so they do not have to go to parks.
Wifi in parks.
What do parks have to do with the internet? Well, the thing is that the first Wi-Fi zones opened by the Cuban government were popular parks. These places were revived, illuminated, and soon filled with people holding tablets, mobile phones and laptops. They turned into picturesque sites, where all people mix, and private conversations are revealed to everybody.
Wifi in hotels.
There are also Wi-Fi spots in hotels, but they are more expensive, and you are often demanded to buy at least a drink if you are not lodged in the hotel. Therefore, not many Cubans connect to the Internet from there.
ETECSA’s Internet rooms.
If they don’t want to be outside under the hot tropical sun, they go to ETECSA’s Internet rooms, although there they can only check their e-mail, use Facebook – the most popular social media in Cuba – and look for information, because many other services, such as Skype, are blocked in Cuba.
Expensive, used mainly by embassies.
Often private individuals will use special devices to “suck up” the WiFi from public parks and redistribute it at home.
How do Cubans cope with the limited internet?
Often the easiest thing to do is not to use the internet at all times, instead to have downloaded content available.
A typical example is the app Maps.Me, which downloads the map of the entire country to the users smartphone. It is a collaboratively edited map, which means that unofficial truck stops next to an abandoned bridge can be included.
Another option is to distribute things without internet. The most famous example of this is El Paquete, a regularly produced file with pirated films, tv series, books and everything you can imagine (including Wikipedia).
If the main limitation is the internet speed, people go to locations where not many people are using the network. You can often see people working on laptops at 2-3 am.
How do Cubans get around Internet restrictions?
People often use Virtual Private Networks (VPN) for added privacy.
In addition, sometimes people pool the internet usage. In many parks teenagers will hotspot the internet off a laptop connected with a non-resident’s nauta account. That means that whoever connects to the internet using that WiFi can mask their identity.