La “Red de la Calle” or “Street Net” Helps Cuban Youth Connect
It is no surprise Cuba’s connection to the internet is highly regulated. Many consider it to be among the most tightly controlled in the world. With few connections, tight censorship and high costs, it is difficult, some would even say impossible, to gain access see news updates, share files and play online games on the World Wide Web. Due to these difficulties, resourceful Cubans have created an underground network known as La Red de la Calle, or Street Net, (“SNet”) which has been under construction since 2001. This private network of more than 9,000 computers is made up of small, inexpensive, and powerful hidden Wi-Fi antennas and Ethernet cables strung over streets and rooftops spanning the entire city.  Currently, it has approximately 2,000 users a day.
Cuban officials blame the limitations of their internet access on the U.S. embargo. Conversely, others blame the Cuban government’s regulation and preference for censorship. Many consider the main barriers to be physical. The island is isolated by its geography and the absence of stable or reliable internet connections.
Cuba’s first internet connection was established in 1996. It was a 64 bit link to Sprint in the United States. The connection to the internet has not developed much further than its original form. In 2011, plans were made to establish a fiber optic connection with Venezuela, by way of Jamaica. Ultimately costing $70 million and funded by the Venezuelan government, the underwater fiber-optic cable line linking Cuba, Jamaica and Venezuela went online in January 2013.
Aside from the physical barriers, there are regulatory barriers to access. Internet service is reserved for state officials and foreigners, while most Cubans turn to government offices, hotels, some businesses and more than 100 government-run cyber-centers around the country.
Observers from abroad and many Cubans blame the lack of internet on the Government's desire to control the populace and to use disproportionately high cell-phone and internet charges as a source of cash for other government agencies.
"Rather than relying on the technically sophisticated filtering and blocking used by other repressive regimes, the Cuban government limits users’ access to information primarily via lack of technology and prohibitive costs," Sanja Tatic Kelly, project director for Freedom on the Net at the American NGO Freedom House, told AFP.
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