Sat, Jun 20, 2015 - Page 15 News List

Cuba to launch first public WiFi service

AFP, HAVANA

Cuba announced plans on Thursday to open 35 public WiFi hotspots and halve the price to go online, seeking to expand Internet access in one of the world’s least-connected countries.

State telecoms firm Etecsa said the hotspots, a first for the country, would be set up nationwide and begin service next month.

It is “a first step toward increasing Internet access,” Etecsa communications director Luis Manuel Diaz told a state newspaper.

Etecsa had previously offered public WiFi in a small pilot program, and unstable illegal connections periodically appear and disappear in Cuba.

To access the official hotspots, users will have to create an account with Etecsa for US$1.50 and pay an hourly connection fee.

Etecsa also announced that it was reducing the price to access the Internet to US$2 an hour, down from the current promotional rate of US$2.50 and the long-time rate of US$4.50.

It did not say whether the same rate would apply to the new WiFi connections.

Since 2013, Cuba has had 155 public Internet cafes where users can go online for the hourly rate.

However, the price is steep in a country where the average salary is US$20 a month.

Home Internet access is restricted to members of certain professions, such as journalists, doctors and students.

According to the International Telecommunications Union, just 3.4 percent of Cuban homes were online in 2013.

Cuban President Raul Castro’s government has said it wants all Cubans to have Internet access by 2020.

US President Barack Obama has named increased Internet access for the island as one of the goals of the historic thaw between Washington and Havana announced in December last year.

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