Cuba, one of the world's most isolated countries in terms of Internet connectivity, on Thursday took another step toward greater openness with the activation of mobile data services using 3G technology, a move much anticipated by Cubans despite the relatively high price for the service compared to their meager state-established salaries.
Early Thursday morning, the state-run Etecsa telecommunications monopoly began sending text messages announcing the start of the new offering to customers who participated in the three free trials held by the company earlier this year.
The majority of the more than 5.3 million Cuban mobile device users will be able to connect to the Internet from their cellphones according to a staggered schedule over the next three days if they pay the consumption charge of 10 CUC cents - a CUC is equivalent to $1 - per megabyte or buy one of the four data packages, which run from 600 megabytes for 7 CUC to 4 gigabytes for 30 CUC.
"It's great for those of us who have family (abroad). Up to now, the speed is working well. I've made a video call and it was fabulous, and I'm in a rural area," Yunet told EFE.
The less fortunate Daniel, however, said he has spent "the whole morning trying" and so far on his mobile phone he can only see the notice that "We're processing your request."
"For me, it's very helpful because I don't have a landline or access to the Internet at home, so it's a change that I think is really great. It's a little expensive, but you've got to make sacrifices," said Henry, a computer tech who left his job in the state sector, where the average salary does not exceed $30 per month.
For the past three years, the Cuban government has been implementing an "informationization policy" to correct the country's historic backwardness vis-a-vis the rest of the world regarding online connectivity and technologies, and as part of that policy this year it also authorized the ability to access the Internet from people's homes, something that before had only been allowed for certain professionals.
The 3G activation only covers about two-thirds of Cuban territory, and extending it to the rest of the island is a big challenge for the government, which had promised that before yearend all Cubans would have Internet access from their mobile phones.
Free, rapid and cheap connectivity to the Internet is still pending for all of Cuba's 11.1 million citizens and 5.9 million Internet users.
Also, broadband availability is still very bad on the island, where it was reported recently that negotiations were under way with foreign tech companies, including Google, although no concrete results or confirmation of progress have been announced as yet by Havana.