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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Sat Oct 21 13:26:40 2000
Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2000 23:17:12 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: COMMUNICATIONS-CUBA: Gov't to Set Up Public Internet Terminals
Article: 107306
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Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Gov't to Set Up Public Internet Terminals

By Patricia Grogg, IPS, 18 October 2000

HAVANA, Oct 18 (IPS) - Internet access from home does not figure into the Cuban government's plans to expand information technology throughout the island, instead, it has opted for a less expensive community-based approach.

"We are not going to look for a solution for a minority, but rather the majority, Roberto del Puerto, director of the communications technology division at the Ministry of Computers and Communications, explained to IPS.

As of June, there were 35,170 e-mail accounts in Cuba (population 11 million), half of which had international access, but just 3,625 computers of the 110,000 on the island had full Internet access.

Among those with Internet service are official institutions, firms based on foreign capital, accredited foreign correspondents and diplomatic personnel.

In addition, a group of 200 state-run press agents in Cuba were this year given contracts that allow them 40 hours of Internet time per month.

Del Puerto pointed out that cyberspace navigation requires an IP (Internet Protocol) address that Cuba must request from the corresponding entity in the United States.

"We don't have as many IP addresses as we'd like, so when it comes time to assign them, we have to give priority to enterprise, scientific research and development institutions, schools and computer labs," he said.

Cuba's socialist government is studying the possibility of equipping the 1,041 existing post offices with computers to provide public access to cyberspace.

In the first phase, the plan would cover the island's 14 provincial capitals and would include access only to the Intranet (national network), in other words, people would be limited to navigating among the nation's approximately 200 websites.

The system "is in the experimental stages to determine how well it works." According to Del Puerto, it would be put into practice using a terminal - computer, monitor and keyboard - designed specifically for the user to work on the web.

"It seems to us a more sensible solution because it implies less energy consumption, and concentrates things in locations where there are qualified staff to resolve any technical problem that might arise," the official pointed out.

But the government's formula is unsatisfactory for those who already have their own home computers, especially if they are lucky enough to have e-mail - they want to extend that service to include the Internet.

"It's incredible how much time I waste looking for a computer (with Internet access) to locate the materials I need, or how much I would gain from having that service at home," commented a young writer who asked that her name be withheld.

But Del Puerto insists the solution for the majority of the Cuban people, given the country's current conditions, lies in the community access centres. There, he pointed out, anyone can open their e-mail account or make on on-line search.

"This allows us to provide massive access, and this way we are implementing something that the rest of the world is doing," stressed the communications official, referring to the cybercafes or public Internet booths that are found in many Latin American cities.

One example is Peru, where there are an estimated 400,000 Internet users among a population of 24 million. Of the current users, 40 percent take advantage of public access terminals, a system promoted by the non-governmental Peruvian Scientific Network as an alternative to the prohibitive costs of home computers.

Del Puerto acknowledged that the Cuban government uses "the internationally recognised filters" to protect the island from pornographic sites and from websites based on racist or fascist ideologies.

"The Internet is a Pandora's Box, with many good things and many bad things, (and when) we believe it necessary we are going to filter in order to minimise risk, much the same way one uses traffic lights to reduce car accidents."

There are four public web access providers on the island that all charge approximately the same rates, though they are higher than in any other Latin American country.

For example, a news enterprise with a contract for full-time Internet access pays 260 dollars per month to the provider, in addition to a phone bill that can surpass 300 dollars.

Del Puerto said the Cuban service is so expensive because all international access is via satellite, but added that rates are expected to drop before the end of the year once the so-called Neutral Access Points (NAP) are operating.

NAPs allow local Internet traffic to be concentrated in one place, which then negotiates a signal and also facilitates the differentiation between national and international navigation, the latter being much more expensive.

The Cuban-Italian owned Telecommunications Enterprise of Cuba, which holds the country's telephone services monopoly, is currently embarked on a modernisation plan that cost 376 million dollars from 1995 to 1999.

Studies by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimate that by next year there will be approximately 700 million people in the world who regularly use the Internet, with the vast majority living in the industrialised North.



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