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Cubans defy government's home internet ban with secret home-made network

Tech for the unconnected

Cubans are fighting back against restrictions on their use of internet with SNet, a secret network. Also known as StreetNet, it pools the resources of citizens, who are effectively prohibited from using the internet.

The Washington Post reports that while the full fat internet in Cuba is government-controlled – home internet is banned and the government controls uber-expensive access in hotels and internet cafes – a local proxy has been set up which links 9,000 computers on the island. Using CAT5 strung from house to house and hidden Wi-Fi antennas, the Cuban network repurposes equipment to create a massive intranet.

It clearly has a level of control with gaming servers and online communities. Cuba has a top level domain – .cu – and is recognised by ICANN, but access for ordinary individuals is controlled by the government and priced way beyond their reach. It appears that the authorities are turning a blind eye to SNet, which in turn is policed by volunteers to ensure that it’s not used for (other) illegal activities or porn. Lack of connections to the wider internet helps ensure the government doesn’t act to shut down SNet.

Both the US and Cuba hope that the thawing of the relationship between the two will lead to better internet connectivity for the Cuban population of 11 million. Cuban officials blame the US trade embargo for lack of connectivity.

Cuba’s mobile phone technology is limited to 2G according to the GSMA roaming information, and even then coverage is limited to the larger cities. Lack of smartphone penetration rules out the use of services such as Firechat for peer-to-peer communications.

Numerous reports have shown the benefits (PDF) of connectivity for the poorest people in the world, which combined with a friendlier stance to international relations mean it can only be a matter of time before Cuba gets full internet access. ®

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