Sunday, February 11, 2018

Suggestions for the Cuba Internet Task Force

John S. Creamer
The Cuba Internet Task Force (CITF) held their inaugural meeting last week.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs John S. Creamer will chair the CITF and there are government representatives from the Department of State, Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Federal Communications Commission, National Telecommunications and Information Administration and Agency for International Development. Freedom House will represent NGOs and the Information Technology Industry Council will represent the IT industry.

They agreed to form two subcommittees -- one to explore the role of media and freedom of information in Cuba and one to explore Internet access. The subcommittees are to provide preliminary reports of recommendations within six months and the CITF will reconvene in October to review those preliminary reports and prepare a final report with recommendations for the Secretary of State and the President.

They are soliciting public comments, looking for volunteers for service on the subcommittees and have established a Web site.

I may be wrong, but it sounds like the subcommittees will be doing much of the actual work. The subcommittee on technological challenges to Internet access will include US technology firms and industry representatives and the subcommittee on media and freedom of information will include NGOs and program implementers with a focus on activities that encourage freedom of expression in Cuba through independent media and Internet freedom. They aim to maintain balance by including members from industry, academia and legal, labor, or other professionals.

I hope the Task Force resists proposals for clandestine programs. Those that have failed in the past have provided the Cuban government with an excuse for repression and cost the United States money and prestige. Both the Cuban and United States governments have overstated what their impact would have been had they succeeded.

Cuba's current Wi-Fi hotspots, navigation rooms, home DSL and 3G mobile are stopgap efforts based on obsolete technology and they provide inferior Internet access to a limited number of people. (El Paquete Semanal is the most important substitute for a modern Internet in Cuba today).

It would be difficult to devise plans or offer support for activities that the current Cuban government would allow and be able to afford; however, the situation may ease somewhat after Raúl Castro steps down in April. Are there short-run steps Cuba would be willing to take that we could assist them with?

For example, the next Cuban government might be willing to consider legitimizing and assisting some citizen-implemented stopgap measures like building street nets and rural community networks, selling geostationary satellite service and installing LANs in schools and other organizations.

They might also be willing to accept educational material and services like access to online material from Coursera or LAN-based courseware from MIT or The Khan Academy. (At the time of President Obama's visit, Cisco and the Universidad de las Ciencias Informaticas promised to cooperate in bringing the Cisco Network Academy to Cuba, but, as far as I know, that has not happened).

The US requires Coursera and other companies to block Cuban access to their services. We could reverse that policy unilaterally, without the permission of the Cuban government.

Google is the only US Internet company that has established a relationship with and been allowed to install infrastructure in Cuba. The next Cuban administration might be willing to trust them as partners in infrastructure projects like providing wholesale fiber service or establishing a YouTube production space in Havana. Cuba could also serve as a test population for Google services optimized for low-bandwidth networks.

These are short-term, stopgap measures. In the long run, Cuba should investigate opportunities for leapfrogging – planning for technology like 5G wireless and low-Earth orbit satellites that will be available in, say, five years. Our mobile phone companies and nascent satellite ISPs SpaceX and OneWeb may have significant offerings in five years -- might Cuba be willing to work with them?

Long-run steps like these would require Cuba's leapfrogging regulatory and infrastructure-ownership policy. The ITU defines four generations of regulation and Cuba is one of the few remaining first-generation nations -- might the Cuban government be willing to make policy changes in five years?





Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Cuba Internet Task Force -- a win for Trump, Castro and Putin

President Obama began working on Cuban rapprochement during his 2009 presidential campaign. After over five years of thought and negotiation, the Whitehouse announced a major shift in Cuba policy, which included allowing telecommunications providers "to establish the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and Internet services, which will improve telecommunications between the United States and Cuba."

When President Obama's trip to Cuba was announced, I speculated on possible Internet-related advances but was disappointed by the results. While in Cuba, the President held optimistic public meetings and several Internet-related projects were announced, but, as far as I know, none of them materialized. Can we expect more from Trump?

Last summer, Trump said he would be changing our Cuba policy and I speculated on how it might affect the Internet, but could not think of anything reasonable. When he published his Cuba policy memorandum, one of its purposes was to restore Cuban's "right to speak freely, including through access to the Internet" and one of its goals was to "amplify efforts to support the Cuban people through the expansion of internet services."

Trump said he was "canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba," but his Internet policy sounded a lot like Obama's. The only concrete difference I saw was that Trump had ordered the State Department to convene a task force "to examine the technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access in Cuba."

Last week, the State Department issued a public invitation to attend the first meeting of that Cuba Internet Task Force on February 7th.

I called the State Department to ask whether the meeting would be streamed or archived and was told that it would not. I asked if they had any information on the meeting agenda, the charge of the task force and who the members were. They referred my questions to the Press office, but they did not answer.

We will hopefully learn more after the meeting, but what might Trump do? Will we see the laissez-faire Trump who promised Saudi Arabia that "America will not seek to impose our way of life on others" or some sort of digital Bay of Pigs like the failed smuggling of satellite equipment into Cuba, Zunzuneo or the Alan Gross affair?

My guess is that not much will happen -- that this task force and the rest of Trump's Cuba policy is for domestic political consumption by anti-Castro politicians and voters. The Cuban government is also using the task force for domestic political consumption. Their reaction to its formation was predictable -- saying that Cuba is being attacked by a powerful, hostile nation. Within a few days of the formation of the task force, many articles like this one were published by the Cuban government and allied publications like China's Xinhua and Russia's RT. (Perhaps rekindling the Cold War is part of making America great again).

Ironically, this task force is a political win for both Castro and Trump -- autocracy thrives on fear and mistrust.

=====
Update 2/2/2018

Last night I saw The Final Year, a documentary on the final year of the Obama administration. In it, former Whitehouse staff member Ben Rhodes says it took them time to realize that Putin was not motivated by the interests of Russia, but by self-interest. That may be true to some extent for nearly all politicians, but it seems to fit Castro and Trump well in this case.

(As an aside -- Rhodes was one of the two White House staff members handling the negotiations leading up to our opening with Cuba).

=====
Update 2/3/2018

Following up on Ben Rhodes' comment on Putin -- establishing this task force or any other act that drives a wedge between Cuba and the US benefits Putin as well as Trump and Castro.

While Castro and Trump use the rift between their nations for domestic political advantage, Putin uses it for international political advantage and commerce.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union caused an economic crisis in Cuba, sharply cutting trade and cooperation with Russia and other Soviet republics, but in the last few years, trade and cooperation have picked up. In 2014, Russia forgave 90 percent of the $35 billion debt Cuba incurred during the economically difficult "special period" of the 1990s, with the remaining $3.5 billion to be settled by giving preferential treatment to Russian investments on the island.

Cuba and Russia are also cooperating on oil exploration, extraction and refining and Cuba is importing oil, cars, trucks, and railway infrastructure and equipment. Trade between Russia and Cuba rose 73 percent in the first half of 2017 to $176 million. There has even been talk of Russia reopening it's cold war Signals Intelligence base, which once had a staff of 1,500 in Cuba.

While Russia is building commercial and political ties with Cuba, China remains their largest trading partner and a major supplier of Internet and computer equipment. (For more on Cuba-China trades, click here). Even Iran is allying with Cuba.

Russia is also on the "right side" of public opinion of the Cuban embargo. The embargo is unpopular in Latin America and the rest of the world. (The US and Israel support the embargo in the UN and the remaining 191 UN member states oppose it).

Evidently making America great again entails having a hostile ally of Russia and China 90 miles from Florida -- sound familiar? Putin may be the biggest winner from our Cuba policy shift and the Cuban and American people the biggest losers.

Castro and Putin meeting at the UN (source)

=====
Update 2/7/2018

Reuters reports that Cuban independent media outlets oppose Trump's Cuba Internet policy.

Elaine Diaz, founder of Periodismo de Barrio, José Jasán Nieves, director of El Toque and Miguel Alejandro Hayes who writes for La Joven Cuba are all quoted as opposing the Trump initiative.

Nieves said civil society initiatives had "flourished" after the Obama-Castro detente and Diaz said she would refuse any money the Trump program might award and stressed that they are independent media "independent of Cuban authorities as well as any other government." Hayes does not agree with Trump's goal of toppling the Cuban government.

Of course, these are only three of many independent journalists in Cuba and they are not extremists.

I suspect that this Task Force will be given a budget and, if independent journalists are not interested in assistance from the US, they may end up funding secret projects like those mentioned above. That will allow Trump to claim to be tougher than Obama and the Cubans will discover the projects and overstate their significance -- propaganda wins for Trump and Castro. Putin will smile quietly.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Cuba's year-end progress report -- emphasis on the national intranet

In 2014, Cuba embarked on a program for the "informatization" of society and "advances in the informatization of society" was the theme of the short videos by ETECSA president Mayra Arevich Marín and Vice Minister of Communications Wilfredo González, which are at the end of this post.

The following are some of the points they made:
  • Some e-government -- paying taxes, recording of births and marriages, court information, etc. is now online.
  • Mobile banking and bill paying has been tested by 20,000 users and will be rolled out this year.
  • Cuban content continues to be developed.
  • There are now 11,980 home DSL subscribers. (This is a drop in the bucket, but more than I would have expected).
  • Connectivity at hospitals and medical facilities have improved -- 200 clinics and 190 pharmacies now have connectivity.
  • School connectivity at all levels has improved and all universities have fiber links.
  • They will offer mobile phone access to the Internet this year.
I was struck by the emphasis on the Cuban national intranet, as opposed to the global Internet, in nearly all of this. This emphasis is reflected in the relatively low price of intranet access and the continued development of Cuban content and services.

Popular Cuban national intranet sites

The speakers mentioned Cuban services like the Ecured encyclopedia, Redcuba intranet portal and search engine, Reflejos blog site, CubaEduca teaching site and Andariego maps, which are somewhat like Cuban counterparts to Internet sites like Wikipedia, Google, Wordpress, the Khan Academy and Google Maps respectively. González even mentioned Mi Mochila, the state-sanctioned offline competitor to El Paquete, which is arguably the largest private employer and most pervasive source of digital information in Cuba.

Comparison of Wikipedia and Ecured
articles on José Martí, Cuba's national
hero.
I say these Cuban services are "somewhat like" corresponding Internet services because, given Cuba's population and resources, they can never hope to match the scope and functionality of their global counterparts. For example, Ecured is the closest of these services in design and function to its global counterpart, Wikipedia (both are based on the same software), but the number of Wikipedia articles and size and variety of its editor community are not comparable. Similarly, Redcuba is limited to the national intranet rather than the global Internet.

Copyright considerations also limit the eventual scope of the national intranet. For example, El Paquete distributes pirated Internet material. Some intranet services may also depend upon pirated software. For example, Andariego uses ESRI's ArcGIS geographic information system software -- do they pay for it?

Well, that is what jumped out at me -- you can watch the videos for yourself and see what strikes you.

President of ETECSA, Mayra Arevich Marín:


Vice Minister of Communications, Wilfredo González:

=====
Update 1/12/2018

Here are links to two more year-end summaries that are also based on the videos of Arevich and González and richly illustrated with images and charts:

The big picture



Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cuban satellite connectivity -- today and (maybe?) tomorrow

Last January, Doug Madory of Dyn Research reported on Cuban traffic, noting that C&W's share had increased:


Yesterday Madory reported that ETECSA had activated a new internet transit provider, medium-Earth orbit (MEO) satellite-connectivity provider O3b Networks (Other 3 billion), replacing geostationary satellite provider Intelsat:


(They have also added Telecom Italia, which, until 2011, owned 11% of ETECSA, but I will save that for another post).

O3b's MEO satellites orbit at an altitude of around 8,012 km above the equator while Intelsat's geosynchronous satellites are at around 35,786 km, therefore the time for a data packet to travel from earth to an O3b satellite and back to Earth is significantly less than to an Intelsat satellite. This move to O3b may be related to ETECSA's recent decision to offer SMS messaging service to the US (at an exorbitant price) and it will surely improve the speed of interactive applications.

That is today's situation as I understand it, but now I want to speculate on the future of Cuban satellite connectivity -- say in the early 2020s.

First a little background on O3b Networks. O3b is a wholly owned subsidiary of SES but it was founded in 2007 by Greg Wyler, who has since moved on to a new venture called OneWeb. While O3b provides service to companies like ETECSA, OneWeb plans to also provide fast global connectivity to individuals in fixed locations like homes and schools as well as the "Internet of things."

This animation was prepared by Teledesic,
formed in 1990 to provide LEO satellite
connectivity. Teledesic failed, but
technology, the market and executive skill
have changed since that time.
OneWeb plans to connect the "other 3 billion" people using a constellation of around 1,600 satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO) at an altitude of 1,200 km and another 1,300 in MEO at 8,500 km. They are working with many vendors and partners and plan to launch their first satellites in March 2018. They will begin offering service in Alaska in 2019 and hope to cover all of Alaska by the end of 2020. By 2025 they expect to have 1 billion subscribers and their mission is to eliminate the global digital divide by 2027.

Now, back to Cuba. ETECSA is doing business with Wyler's previous company O3b. Might they also be talking with his current company, OneWeb? It takes time to launch hundreds of satellites, so service is being phased in -- might Cuba come online sometime after Alaska? By connecting Cuba, OneWeb would gain publicity, the goodwill of many nations and access to a relatively well-educated, Internet-starved market and it would enable Cuba to quickly deploy broadband technology.

As I said, this is pure speculation. OneWeb faces significant technical, business and political challenges and may fail. Politics would be particularly challenging in the case of Cuba. Both the US and Cuba would have to make policy changes, but maybe the time is right for that -- the Cuban government will change in 2018 and the US government is likely to change in 2020 when Alaska comes online.

OneWeb has established an indirect relationship with ETECSA through O3b, but other companies, including SpaceX and Boeing, are working on similar LEO projects. Might ETECSA be talking to the others?

SpaceX is particularly interesting. Theirs is the most ambitious plan and their experience as a rocket company is invaluable. Less tangibly, founder, CEO and lead designer Elon Musk is known for audacious risk-taking. OneWeb will begin with Alaska -- might SpaceX begin with Cuba? In serving Cuba, they could also serve the Eastern US and since Cuba is an island the footprint of a satellite would not be so densely populated. SpaceX would gain publicity and international political good will.

To learn more, see this survey of LEO satellite plans and related issues.








Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Could SNET become Cuba's Guifi.net?

Community networks like SNET and Guifi.net are compatible with Cuba's tradition of innovation subject to constraints and socialist values.

In an earlier post, I described Havana's community network, SNET, and wondered what it could become if the government and ETECSA were willing to legitimatize and support it. Spain's Guifi.net provides a possible answer to that question.

Guifi.net is said to be the largest community network in the world. It began in 2004 and has grown to have 34,165 nodes online with 16,758 planned, 407 building, 612 testing and 4,043 inactive. The nodes are linked by WiFi and fiber and there are over 50,000 users throughout Spain. (See the chart and map below).

Community networks like SNET and Guifi.net are compatible with Cuba's tradition of innovation subject to constraints and socialist values. Could SNET grow to serve people throughout Cuba if it had access to ETECSA fiber and the global Internet? While community networks may not be a long-run solution for Cuba, they should be considered as an interim, stopgap means of extending affordable Internet connectivity.

For a technical description of Guifi.net, see A Technological Overview of the Guifi.net Community Network. (Send me a note if you would like to see it, but do not have access).

I also recommend the Internet Society policy brief Spectrum Approaches for Community Networks. It is a concise document with specific recommendations. For example, the section on spectrum management recommends allocating unlicensed spectrum, dynamic sharing of licensed spectrum and innovative licensing like granting licenses for social purposes or small rural communities and give examples of networks employing each of these. There are similar sections with recommendations and examples for policymakers, network organizers, and network operators. The report also has a list of links to other resources and annotated endnotes.

RFC 7962, Alternative Network Deployments: Taxonomy, Characterization, Technologies, and Architectures also provides context and spells out options for potential regulators and network developers and operators and has an extensive list of references.

I hope someone at ETECSA is reading these documents.

Guifi.net growth Source

Guifi.net geographic reach Source

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Data on SNET and a few suggestions for ETECSA

What would be the impact of, say, a $100,000 equipment grant from ETECSA to SNET?

I've written several posts on Cuba's user-deployed street networks, the largest of which is SNET in Havana. (SNET was originally built by the gaming community, but the range of services has grown substantially). My posts and journalist's accounts like this one describe SNET, but a new paper presents SNET measurement data as well as descriptive material.

The abstract of the paper sums it up:
Working in collaboration with SNET operators, we describe the network’s infrastructure and map its topology, and we measure bandwidth, available services, usage patterns, and user demographics. Qualitatively, we attempt to answer why the SNET exists and what benefits it has afforded its users. We go on to discuss technical challenges the network faces, including scalability, security, and organizational issues.
You should read the paper -- it's interesting and well-written -- but I can summarize a few points that caught my attention.

SNET is a decentralized network comprised of local nodes, each serving up to 200 users in a neighborhood. The users connect to local nodes using Ethernet cables strung over rooftops, etc. or WiFi. The local nodes connect to regional "pillars" and the pillars peer with each other over fixed wireless links. The node and pillar administrators form a decentralized organization, setting policy, supporting users and keeping their servers running and online as best they can. (This reminds me of my school's first Web server -- a Windows 3 PC on my desk that crashed frequently).

SNET organization (source)

The average utilized bandwidth between two pillars during a 24-hour period was 120 Mb/s of a maximum throughput of 250 Mb/s and the authors concluded that throughput is generally constrained by the available bandwidth in the WiFi links between pillars. As such, faster inter-pillar links and/or adding new pillars would improve performance. Faster links from local nodes to pillars, new node servers, etc. would also add to capacity and availability, but that hardware would cost money. The Cuban government would probably see the provision of outside funds as subversive, but what would be the impact of, say, a $100,000 equipment grant from ETECSA to SNET?

The paper drills down on the network topology, discusses applications and presents usage and performance statistics. Forums are one of the applications and one of the forums is Netlab, a technical community of over 6,000 registered members who have made over 81,000 posts. They focus on open-source development and have written a SNET search engine and technical guides on topics like Android device repair. The export of Cuban content and technology has been a long-standing focus of this blog, and it would be cool to see Netlab available to others on the open Internet.

Netlab forum growth

The authors of the paper say that as far as they know, "SNET is the largest isolated community-driven network in existence" (my italics). While it may be the largest isolated community network there are larger Internet-connected community networks and that is a shame. I hope Cuba plans to "leapfrog" to next-generation technology and policy) while implementing stopgap measures like WiFi hotspots, 3G mobile and DSL. If SNET and other community networks were legitimized, supported and linked to the Internet (or even the Cuban intranet), they would be useful stopgap technology. ETECSA could also use the skills of the street net builders.

I don't expect ETECSA to take my advice, but if working with SNET is too big a step, they might test community collaboration by working with the developers of a smaller street net like the one in Gaspar or try involving communities in networking some schools, experimenting with community-installed backhaul or deploying interim satellite connectivity.

(You can find links to the paper, Initial Measurements of the Cuban Street Network, presentation slides and abstract here).

Friday, October 20, 2017

Freelist hosts a couple of Cuban email lists -- create one of your own?

If you have an idea for a list of your own, check out Freelists.

Freelists.org hosts Internet mailing lists at no cost. (They ask for donations on their site). Freelist uses an open source server called Ecartis, which appears to have a command interface similar to the popular Listserv (which has been around since 1986).

Freelists host over 11,000 lists, two of which pertain to Cuba and the Internet judging by their names: Cubacel and Emprendedorescubanos.

The Cubacel welcome message says it is for discussion of Cubacel and its network and asks people stick to the topic of mobile networks, post plain text messages, not HTML, and only attach files like .pdfs and images when necessary and to compress them if you do. (This feels so 1980s).

I subscribed to Cubacel about four hours ago, and have seen one user ask when 4G might come to Cuba and receive an answer that trials using 1800 Mhz Band 3 had been run near the Miramar Business Center, but that did not give a clue to if and when 4G would be available.

Another person said they had heard that ETECSA was limiting 3G roaming transfer speed to 300 kbps and asked what speeds people were getting, but so far no one has replied. (I've received reports of much faster service).

I've not yet received any messages from the Emprendedorescubanos list.

You can read a bit more about user's experience with and opinion of the Cubacel list here.

If you have an idea for a list of your own, check Freelists out -- it takes only a minute to create a list. (Let me know if you do).

Cubacel list emails (source)

Friday, September 29, 2017

Cuba's (hopefully limited) ADSL expansion

Home ADSL is less important than other interim, stopgap measures like WiFi parks and El Paquete Semanal.

In 2015, ETECSA announced/leaked a plan to make ADSL service available in 50% of Cuban homes by 2020. I was skeptical. Doing so would mean investing a lot of money for obsolete technology between 2015 and 2020.

They just announced the availability of ADSL connectivity at homes in portions of seven cities and, by December, they say some home connectivity will be available in every province.

ETECSA first tested, then offered ADSL service in Old Havana. Only 600 customers opened accounts after the test period, leading me to speculate (and hope) that the ADSL project would end given the low acceptance rate. I was wrong, but I still don't think ADSL will or should reach anywhere near 50% of Cuban homes.

Let me digress a bit to explain why I think ADSL is a bad idea. ADSL requires a telephone line from one's home to a phone company central office where the DSL equipment is installed and the central office needs a fast enough connection to the Internet to handle the traffic of all the customers it serves. Deteriorated wiring, a long distance from a home to the central office or a lack of backhaul capacity from the central office to the Internet reduce connection speed.

For example, in my neighborhood Frontier offers ADSL service at speeds ranging from 1.61 Mbps to 6 Mbps. (The FCC defines "broadband" as 25 Mbps or more). My home is about two miles from my central office and it was built just after World War II, so the fastest speed they can offer me is 3 Mbps. That has not changed since I discontinued ADSL in the 1990s. ADSL technology has improved since that time, but Frontier has not invested in new equipment because their ADSL service is clearly inferior to that offered by cable TV companies.

Perhaps ETECSA has a commitment to their DSL equipment vendor, Huawei, or they are able to make a profit serving a few customers at the high prices they are charging today, but I can't imagine them making a large investment in this technology. (see prices below).

I don't have the details, but my guess is that only a few central offices will be equipped for ADSL in each new city and a relatively small number of people in served neighborhoods will choose to pay the prices they are charging for home Internet service. (I wonder what percent of their current Havana and Bayamo customers are businesses or homes of people who rent rooms or work at home).

As such, I don't see this slow, expensive, restricted service as very important. It should be considered an interim, stopgap measure, like WiFi parks or El Paquete Semanal, while ETECSA plans "leapfrogging" to next-generation technology and, more important, regulation and infrastructure ownership policy in the 2020s.

Cities served, prices and connection speeds

=====
Update 10/4/2017

ETECSA has released details on their recent ADSL expansion. There are answers to 85 frequently asked questions including this list the popular councils in which ADSL is available:


ADSL is now available in portions of 16 popular councils in addition to previous availability in Havana and Bayamo. Around 600 homes have subscribed in Havana.

In 2016 there were 764 central offices in Cuba (719 of them digital). I don't know if some central offices serve homes in more than one popular council or if there are some popular councils served by more than one central office, but even with this expansion, ADSL is only available to and affordable by a small portion of Cuban homes.

My guess would be that the central offices that have been upgraded to allow for ADSL are in relatively affluent neighborhoods and many subscribers are businesses or people renting rooms in their homes, but that is just a guess and it would be interesting to see a survey of ADSL subscribers.

=====
Update 10/16/2017

When ETECSA held a home connectivity trial in Havana last year, 868 people participated and over 600 contracted for the service. They are now extending the availability of home connectivity to portions of seven Havana municipalities: La Habana Vieja, Centro Habana, Revolution Square, Havana del Este, San Miguel del Padrón, La Lisa and beach. (It had been available in only two up till now).

Note that all locations in those municipalities will not be covered -- I suspect that is due to distance from an ETECSA central office, a lack of backhaul capacity and/or the poor wiring condition.

They also announced a home service price cut -- 15 CUC for 30 hours per month will now get you 1 Mbps instead of 256 kbps. (The release said 1 megabyte, but I suspect that was a typo).

Perhaps ETECSA is able to recover the cost of their DSL and infrastructure investment at the speeds and prices they are offering, but this is clearly not the path to widespread home connectivity.


=====
Update 10/17/2017

ETECSA has released the number of Nauta Hogar subscribers outside of Havana: 232 in Pinar del Río, 225 in Holguín, 134 in Guantanamo, 79 in Granma and 142 in Las Tunas. Most of those are 1 or 2 Mbps.

With a reported subscriber count of 600 in Havana, this brings the total number of homes with ADSL connectivity to a little over 1,400. As of 2015, there were 996,063 residential phone lines in Cuba. They clearly can not and should not count on using ADSL to reach the 50% availability level mentioned above.

=====
Update 12/26/2017

Last week, ETECSA announced the availability of DSL connectivity to 821 potential clients in Santiago de Cuba, a city with a population of 433,527 in 2015. The announcement singles out two neighborhoods, so I suspect that two central offices were upgraded to offer DSL service and evidently only 821 homes have good enough copper wiring to receive data from them at 4 Mbps. (There are 719 digital central offices in Cuba).

It is telling that they proudly announce such a modest achievement -- reminiscent of the coverage of Kcho's WiFi hotspots. (I'm tempted to mention Donald Trump at this point, but will resist the temptation).

Last May, ETECSA announced the goal of being able to offer 38,000 home DSL accounts. I doubt that they came close to that goal. The goal for 2020 is to offer connectivity to 50 percent of Cuban homes. As of 2016, there were 1,322,002 residences with fixed phone service in Cuba. Their goals are not achievable and, as I stated above, that is good news. At the price ETECSA is charging, very limited DSL coverage may pay for itself or make a little profit, but it is only a temporary stopgap for very few people.

=====
Update 12/30/2017

ETECSA is offering their Nauta Home DSL service in Camagüey. It looks like three central offices are able to offer DSL and this map shows the approximate areas they serve, presumably at up to 4 Mbps. For reference, the road shown around Camagüey is about 18.5 miles long.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Google global cache servers are online in Cuba, but Google's App Engine is blocked

This is a belated update. I had hoped to get more information before posting it, but difficult Internet access in Cuba and now the hurricane got in the way -- better late than never.

Cuban requests for Google services are being routed to GCC servers in Cuba and all Google services that are available in Cuba are being cached -- not just YouTube. That will cut latency significantly, but Cuban data rates remain painfully slow. My guess is that Cubans will notice the improved performance in interactive applications, but maybe not perceive much of a change when watching a streaming video.

Note the italics in the above paragraph -- evidently, Google blocks access to their App Engine hosting and application development platform. Cuban developers cannot build App Engine applications and Cubans cannot access applications like the Khan Academy or Google's G-Suite.


The last time I checked, Rackspace and Amazon allowed access to their hosting platforms from Cuba, but IBM Softlayer and Google did not. President Obama clearly favored improved telecommunication for Cuba, stating that
I’ve authorized increased telecommunications connections between the United States and Cuba. Businesses will be able to sell goods that enable Cubans to communicate with the United States and other countries.
in his Cuba Policy Changes. While Trump claimed that he was "canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba," he made few changes and has said nothing about restrictions on access to Internet services by Cubans.

I wonder why IBM and Google do not follow the lead of Amazon and Rackspace.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Fact checking the recent news about Google in Cuba

The Cuban Internet is constrained by the Cuban government and to a lesser extent the US government, not Google.

Google's Cuba project has been in the news lately. Mary Anastasia O’Grady wrote a Wall Street Journal article called "Google’s Broken Promise to Cubans," criticising Google for being "wholly uninterested in the Cuban struggle for free speech" and assisting the Castro government.

The article begins by taking a shot at President Obama who "raved" about an impending Google-Cuba deal “to start setting up more Wi-Fi access and broadband access on the island.”

(The use of the word "raved" nearly caused me to dismiss the article and stop reading, but I forced myself to continue).

The next paragraph tells us "Google has become a supplier of resources to the regime so that Raúl Castro can run internet (sic) at faster speeds for his own purposes."

The article goes on to tell us that Brett Perlmutter of Google "boasted" that Google was “thrilled to partner” with a regime-owned museum, featuring a Castro-approved artist.

(Like "raved," the use of the word "boasted" seemed Trump-worthy, but I kept reading).

O'Grady also referred to a July 2015 Miami Herald report that Perlmutter had pitched a proposal to build an island-wide digital infrastructure that the Cuban government rejected.

Next came the buried lead -- it turns out this article was precipitated by blocked Cuban access to the pro-democracy Web site Cubadecide.org.

Perlmutter tweeted that the site was blocked because of the US embargo on Cuba.

Well, that is enough. Let's do some fact checking.

President Obama's "raving:" It is true that President Obama made a number of (in retrospect) overly-optimistic predictions during his Cuba trip, but the use of the word "raving" and the obligatory shot at President Obama were clues that O'grady might not be impartial and objective.

Google as a supplier of resources: This presumably is a reference to Google's caching servers in Cuba. While these servers marginally speed access to Google applications like Gmail and YouTube, it is hard to see how that helps Raul Castro. It has been reported that Cuba agreed "not censor, surveil or interfere with the content stored" on Google's caching servers. Furthermore, Gmail is encrypted and YouTube is open to all comers -- for and against the Cuban government.

Brett Perlmutter's boasting:
about partnering with a Cuban artist's installation of a free WiFi hotspot. I agree that the WiFi hotspot at the studio of the Cuban artist Kcho is an over-publicized drop in the bucket -- much ado about not much.

Google's rejected offer of an island-wide digital infrastructure: I have seen many, many (now I'm channeling Trump) references to this "offer," but have no idea what was offered. Google won't tell me and I've seen no documentation on the offer.

Google's blocking of Cubadecide.org: It is true that Google blocks access to Cubadecide.org. Furthermore, they block access from Cuba to all sites that are hosted on their infrastructure. Microsoft also blocks Cuban access to sites they host; however, Amazon and Rackspace do not. Cubadecide.org could solve their problem by moving their site to Amazon, Rackspace or a different hosting service that does not block Cuban access.

Perlmutter blames the embargo: I don't want to give Google a pass on this. The next question is "why does Amazon allow Cuban access and Google does not?" They are both subject to the same US laws. IBM is a more interesting case -- they did not block access at first but changed their policy later.

There may be some reason for IBM and Google behaving differently than Amazon and Rackspace. I asked both IBM and Google for an explanation, but neither replied.

It should also be pointed out that the Cuban government also blocks access to some Web sites so they could counter a move by Cubadecide.org if they wished.

Before publishing this post, I wanted to confirm my understanding of the situation and I found something I cannot explain. It turns out that the Khan Academy, an educational site with both Spanish and English versions that I would love to see available in Cuba, uses both Amazon and Google as hosts.

When I accessed them from the US, I was directed to Amazon for the English site and Google for the Spanish site, but I got strange results from friends in Cuba. One told me he was unable to access either site from a government enterprise but was able to access both from a WiFi park. Another told me he was unable to access either from a university, the medical network, Mednet, or a WiFi park. I had them try the Amazon IP address I was directed to in the US (23.23.224.106), but that did not work in Cuba either.

Well, that remains a mystery, which maybe some reader in Cuba can clear up.

Well, those are the "facts" as I see them. The bottom line for me is that the Cuban government, not Google, is constraining the Cuban Internet. (I've talked about Cuban constraints in several earlier posts, for example, here and here). The US embargo and Trump's policy have also set the Cuban Internet back. That being said, I would like to know why Google feels compelled to block Cuban access when Amazon does not.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Nearshore Americas throws in the towel

Previously optimistic Nearshore Americas says Cuban offshore IT is a lost cause.

In an earlier post, I asked whether the nascent Cuban software community would thrive. The offshore IT firm Nearshore Americas seemed to think the answer was "yes." Two years ago, I described their report on Cuba’s Readiness for ICT Transformation, which spoke of barriers to success but also documented Cuba's talent pool and the government agenda for improving connectivity.

That was two years ago. Today, they have given up on Cuba. Kirk Laughlin, Nearshore Americas founder and managing director, has written a post stating that
For those who continue to hope that Cuba will turn the corner, stop hoping. It’s futile. We know it first hand, and in this piece, I’ll explain as plainly as I can that Cuba is a lost cause, a basket-case for global services and easily the biggest disappointment ever in the short history of Nearshore information technology and business process outsourcing.
He goes on to describe his frustrating interactions with stubborn, paranoid Cuban officials and diplomats during the ensuing two years. He came to realize that "an American pitching technology in Havana is like a Russian selling satellite equipment in Washington, D.C. – suspicions are instantly raised."

Hopefully, things will change in the future, but Trump's presidency is not likely to diminish Cuban official's fear of expressing opinions that contradict the party line and Díaz-Canel's policy is uncertain.

The following figures show results of Nearshore Americas' poll of Cuban IT workers two years ago.



-----
Update 9/5/2017

Inspired by the Nearshore Americas post, Cuban blogger and professor Armando Camacho has written a post on the failure of Cuban outsourcing (in Spanish). He speaks of Cuba's potential as an outsourcing hub, Nearshore Americas' optimism after President Obama's liberal Cuban policy announcement in December 2014 and their disappointment with Cuba's response. As Camacho puts it "nobody likes to get a zero on an exam," and that is the grade he is giving the Cuban government.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Cuba's Digital Revoluton -- a flawed documentary

Most of Cuba doesn't have the Internet.
The Bertelsmann Foundation has produced a 25-minute documentary on Cuba's Digital Revolution (below). The video is divided into four parts:
While I agree with the editorial point of view that US Cuba policy should remain open, as it was during the Obama administration, the video is flawed.

There is nothing novel about the basic content -- it has all been covered in other videos, articles, and blogs like the one you are reading now.

More important, the video overstates the impact of the opening of the US to Cuba, concluding that "In the two years since the Obama administration engaged with the country, Cuba has taken remarkable steps towards a digital revolution" or stating that "in 2014, after the Obama administration extended an olive branch, the Cuban government began relaxing restrictions on internet use -- the government opened a series of WiFi parks."

Correlation is not causation. The first WiFi parks opened in July 2015, several months after President Obama's policy change, but Cuba had begun opening public access facilities in June of 2013 and the WiFi hotspots were built by Huawei, a Chinese company with a long standing relationship with Cuba.

Carlos Gutierrez, who served as Secretary of Commerce under George W. Bush, went further saying "all the big telecomms -- AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon have roaming agreements with the Cuban government and that's what's enabled all these people to get WiFi." He does not understand the difference between mobile roaming and WiFi or who the roaming users are and I can't understand why that clip was not cut.

But, it's not all bad. The presentation is often engaging. For example, we follow the narrator around Havana as he buys a phone (on Revolico) and gets online at a WiFi hotspot and there is a good interview with a distributor of El Paquete. My favorite part was a conversation in which Cardenas is trying to recruit a contributor for his blog. He takes a thinly veiled shot at the US and goes on to say that he wants to improve and refine Cuban socialism, not abandon it. He criticises the government in order to improve it.

If you still want to watch the video, focus on the vignettes, not the hyperbole. Here it is:

Monday, August 21, 2017

A new undersea cable -- landing in Cuba?

Having two landing points in western Cuba would significantly reduce the load on today's backbone.

Phase 1 routes around Cuba, phase 2 connects Cuba.
As shown here, Deep Blue Cable is planning a Caribbean cable. Phase one, the solid line on the map, bypasses Cuba but phase two shows two Cuban landing points. The phase two cities are not shown, but one appears to be near Havana and the other near Playa Girón. The phase one route survey is underway. Cable installation will begin in September 2018 and it is scheduled to be ready for service in December 2019.

They did not give a schedule for phase two, but having two landing points in western Cuba would significantly reduce the load on today's backbone. Traffic from Camagüey, Holguín, Guantánamo, and Santiago de Cuba could continue being routed over the current undersea cable at the east end of the island and traffic from Havana, Cienfuegos and other western locations would be routed through the new landing points, increasing speed and freeing Cuban capital for connecting smaller cities.

After leading a delegation to Cuba in January 2016, Daniel Sepulveda, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, said there were at least a half-dozen proposals for cables between Cuba and the US, but that is the last I have heard of those proposals.

The cable connecting the US base at Guantanamo to Florida could one day be turned over to Cuba, but even if that were to happen it would not alleviate the backbone load since it lands at the east end of the island.

I have long advocated Cuba investing in interim, stopgap Internet connectivity in the short run while planning to leapfrog current technology using next-generation technology when it becomes available. This cable could be a major component of that next-generation Internet.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Laptops for Cuban professors

Late last year, we learned that China's 90,000 employee Haier Group would be producing laptops and tablets in partnership with GEDEME, a Cuban manufacturer that will assemble the machines using Haier parts, equipment, and production processes.

Last week, a friend who is a professor at the University of Havana told me that he and other professors have been given GDM laptops. He said UCI, ISPJAE and Univerisity of Havana faculty were the first to receive the laptops, but eventually all professors at all universities would get them.

When Haier announced they would be producing laptops in Cuba, they said would be Core i3, Celeron and Core i5 CPUs with up to 1 TB of memory. The processor in my friend's machine is a 1.60GHz Celeron N3060, which Intel announced April 1, 2015. The N3060 is a system on a chip with two processor cores, a graphic processing unit, and a memory controller. His laptop has 4 GB of RAM, a 97.31 GB hard drive, a CD-ROM drive and a 1,024 x 768 pixel display with 32-bit color depth. It has a wired Ethernet port, but no WiFi or Bluetooth.

The machine came with UCI's Nova Unix operating system, but my friend has installed Windows in its place and he says most people do the same. (Cuban officials say they can achieve software independence using Nova, but Cuba is not large enough to support its own software, services, and standards).

These are low-end laptops, but they represent a significant step up over phones and tablets for content creation. They are also power-efficient, making them suitable for portable use, but for some reason, they do not have WiFi radios.

A laptop without WiFi is striking today. I don't know what the marginal cost of WiFi would have been, but Alibaba offers many chips for under $5 in relatively small lots. Why don't these machines have WiFi radios? Is the government trying to discourage portable use at home or public-access hotspots?

Regardless of the reason, WiFi dongles are a low-cost fix. There are not a lot of WiFi dongles for sale on Revolico today and their prices are high, but I bet the offerings pick up if these laptops roll out.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Internet status report from Cuba's Minister of Communication

Communication Minister Mesa Ramos
Last month, Minister of Communications, Maimir Mesa Ramos spoke to the Cuban Parliament on the current state of the Internet and reviewed some recent achievments. I've listed some of the points he made (bold face) along with my comments.
  • They are working on a new regulatory and legal framework.
  • The International Telecommunication Union describes four generations of regulatory evolution. Cuba is one of the few nations remaining at level 1. Might they leapfrog a generation or more?
  • They are assembling tablets and laptops running the Cuban operating system, Nova.
  • We discussed this work here and it is my understanding that the laptops are being rolled out to university professors.
  • A computer science professional society was created.
  • We covered this topic here.
  • In 2016, 3,330 new data links were established to national agencies and institutions and the bandwidth to these organizations increased by 72 percent.
  • I can think of many follow-up questions to drill down on this one, but it is good to hear that domestic infrastructure is improving.
  • There are now 879 mobile base stations in Cuba, 358 of which support third generation (3G) mobile service.
  • The percent of the population with mobile coverage has not changed, so the main activity has been 3G upgrades. It would be interesting to know how many Cubans have 3G phones and if backhaul capacity has been added to 3G base stations. Also for context -- 5G networks are forecast to cover around a third of the global population by 2025. Is Cuba planning on leapfrogging to 5G mobile technology?
  • There are over 630 public access navigation rooms and 370 WiFi access points.
  • It is good that they are able to expand public access, but it is an interim, stopgap measure.
  • There are 4.3 million mobile "lines.”
  • I assume this means 4.3 million mobile accounts.
  • Four million users have access to the “Internet,” roughly one million through permanent accounts.
  • The four million figure must include those with access to the domestic Cuban intranet, but not the global Internet. Perhaps the one million permanent accounts belong to people who have accessed the global Internet. Regardless, the term "user" is not defined.
  • Their home broadband service has about 600 subscribers and they realize that it is not the solution for mass access to the Internet.
  • I've been following this home broadband project for some time and have consistently said it made no sense. It seems that the Cubans now agree, but it is hard to understand how such a bad idea was ever considered. I hope different people are making decisions today.
  • Mass deployment will come from wireless services.
  • I wonder what they mean by this. Today's 3G mobile, WiFi hotspots and unofficial streetnets are clearly interim stopgap measures. I hope he was referring to studies of forthcoming 5G wireless and high-speed point-point wireless links to leapfrog current wireless technology. While I am dreaming, I'd love to see Cuba talk with OneWeb and SpaceX about their forthcoming satellite networks. OneWeb is committed to first deploying over Alaska -- how about talking with SpaceX about first covering Cuba?
  • International bandwidth doubled in 2016 from 4Gb/s to 8 Gb/s.
  • That is good to hear -- they need to balance international bandwidth with domestic backbone and access networks, but it should also be kept in context. My small university has a symmetric 10 Gb/s to the Internet.

There was some discussion after the presentation, in which representatives encouraged the production of Cuban content and expressed concern about affordability, cyber crime, and the migration of computer scientists to the non-state sector.

Wilfredo González, vice minister of the Ministry of Communication, said their principle computerization asset was over 25 thousand professionals, trained by Cuban universities.

Miriam Nicado, Rector of the University of Computer Sciences, where the Nova operating system was developed, said its widespread use would allow Cubans to surf with security, independence and technological sovereignty. I wonder if Cubans who get those new Nova-based laptops are installing Windows on them. China, with a population of nearly 1.4 billion people, can support their own software, services, and standards, but not Cuba.

This talk was given shortly before Cuba released their 2016 ICT statistics report, which covers some of the same ground. Check this post for further discussion of that report.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Cuban ICT statistics report for 2016

I look at the ICT statistics reported annually by ONEI, the Cuban Office of statistics and information, every year. This table shows the Internet-related statistics from the latest report:


And this table shows the percent changes over the years:


The first thing I noticed was that the number of "Internet" users increased by 15.8%. I assume that much of that increase and that of the previous year was due to the opening of public access navigation rooms and WiFi hotspots.

I put "Internet" in quotes because the index is not defined. Given its magnitude, I assume that it combines users with access to the internal Cuban intranet and those with access to the global Internet. Furthermore, it is not clear who they are counting as a "user." Does it include anyone who has purchased access time once during the year, people who theoretically have access to the intranet at work or school, etc.? It is customary for statistical agencies to publish appendices with definitions of their indices, but I have not seen one for these statistics. (I'd love a copy of the index definitions if someone has it).

Note that the user increase is only a little over half the increase during the previous year. My guess is that is because a large portion of the first-year WiFi users were highly motivated "early adopters" who continue to use public access points. They were joined this year by people who did not log on until a location opened up near them, they heard about the Internet by word of mouth or perhaps only got a WiFi equipped device this year.

The number of computers increased by 7.6% with 15.1% more of those on the network. "Computer" is not defined, but this increase might reflect laptops, tablets and perhaps phones which people have acquired in order to use the WiFi hotspots.

The number of mobile accounts increased sharply, but, as with network users, the rate of increase was substantially lower than the previous year. The percent of the population with mobile coverage is unchanged, so the total number of mobile base stations has probably remained abourt the same as it was last year. That being said, we know that there are 879 mobile base stations in Cuba and 358 of them have been upgraded to support third generation communication. The number of users with 3G compatible phones is unknown.

The number of names registered under the .cu top-level domain actually decreased, an inidication that new enterprises are registering under top level domains like .com or .co.

For further discussion of the trends noted in this year's report, check our summary of last year's report.

-----
Update 8/5/2017

For further discussion of related topics, see this post on a talk on Internet status by Cuba's Minister of Communication. In the post, I comment briefly on the following points made by the Minister:
  • They are working on a new regulatory and legal framework.
  • They are assembling tablets and laptops running the Cuban operating system, Nova.
  • A computer science professional society was created.
  • In 2016, 3,330 new data links were established to national agencies and institutions and the bandwidth to these organizations increased by 72 percent.
  • There are now 879 mobile base stations in Cuba, 358 of which support third generation (3G) mobile service.
  • There are over 630 public access navigation rooms and 370 WiFi access points.
  • There are 4.3 million mobile "lines.”
  • Four million users have access to the “Internet,” roughly one million through permanent accounts.
  • Their home broadband service has about 600 subscribers and they realize that it is not the solution for mass access to the Internet.
  • Mass deployment will come from wireless services.
  • International bandwidth doubled in 2016 from 4Gb/s to 8 Gb/s.









Thursday, July 20, 2017

DSL Internet available in some Bayamo homes

Nahta home user in Havana (source)
In February, I heard that ETECSA was testing home DSL in Bayamo. They are now offering the same home DSL plans in Bayamo as in Havana.

The announcement said that, as in Havana, access would be limited to homes within a limited area -- probably within a specified distance from the central office(s) that are equipped for DSL. I have heard about similar projects underway in Santa Clara and Las Tunas, so we can expect the service to eventually be rolled out to limited areas there as well.

ETECSA says they will be making this service available in 38,000 homes during 2017. If they are serious about their avowed plan to make DSL available to 50% of homes, they have a long way to go (but I doubt they are serious about doing so).


Saturday, July 1, 2017

What does Trump's Cuba policy memorandum say about the Internet?

Trump orders the Secretary of State to create a Cuban Internet task force.

Last week I reviewed Trump's Cuban policy speech and its implications for the Internet. The speech was accompanied by a national security memorandum on strengthening US Cuba policy, which was sent to the Vice President, Cabinet Secretaries, and heads of various departments.

The first thing that struck me about the memorandum was that it was a "national security" memorandum. Does Trump think Cuba poses a threat to our national security and how does his policy improve the situation? That is a topic for another discussion, but what does the memorandum say about the Internet?

The memorandum addresses the Internet in its purpose, policy and implementation sections.

The purpose section states that in Cuba "the right to speak freely, including through access to the internet, is denied, and there is no free press." One of the purposes of the memorandum is to restore the right to speak freely on the Internet. The Cuban government censors and sometimes punishes dissent and uses the Internet for propaganda, but it is not clear that Trump's policy and attitude will improve the situation. Furthermore, freedom of speech online is often abused and it is ironic that Trump should lecture anyone on this issue.

In the policy section, Trump says he will "amplify efforts to support the Cuban people through the expansion of Internet services, free press, free enterprise, free association, and lawful travel." This sounds good, but, at best, it is inconsistent with the policy he outlined last month in Saudi Arabia when he promised that "America will not seek to impose our way of life on others but to outstretch our hands in the spirit of cooperation and trust." At worst, he could be considering actions like the failed smuggling of satellite equipment into Cuba, Zunzuneo or the Alan Gross affair.

The implementation section says he will "support the expansion of direct telecommunications and Internet access for the Cuban people" by having the Secretary of State convene
a task force, composed of relevant departments and agencies, including the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, and appropriate non-governmental organizations and private-sector entities, to examine the technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access in Cuba, including through Federal Government support of programs and activities that encourage freedom of expression through independent media and internet freedom so that the Cuban people can enjoy the free and unregulated flow of information
I contacted the State Department to see if they could tell me more about the task force, but they offered no details at this time. I'll follow up on this.

I cannot end this post without commenting on the writing style of the memorandum. It is written in the first person, implying that Trump actually wrote it. I am sure it was drafted and revised by staff, but gratuitous adjectives as in "dissidents and peaceful protesters are arbitrarily detained and held in terrible prison conditions," sounded Trumpian to me and the call for the establishment of a task force, quoted above, reminded me of James Joyce. I also found the organization confusing in places. Some policies seemed more like goals and one of them is to "not reinstate the 'Wet Foot, Dry Foot' policy." One wonders why he did not also vow not to reinstate limits on the value of rum and cigars travelers are allowed to bring back from Cuba.



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