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Havana's Hotspots

Cuba is coming online, but who will control its Internet?

Allison Shelley for The Verge

A midnight rain fell through the oak trees of Vedado, a neighborhood in Havana, onto the heads of a dozen people gathered outside a small hotel. The power was out. The only light on the block came from the screens glowing in their hands.

Weaker souls had taken off when the rain began to fall, but the stalwarts along the wrought-iron fence weren’t going anywhere. They had come to this corner among the faded manses of pre-revolutionary sugar barons and mafiosi to taste one of the rarest commodities in Cuba — the Internet — at one of the wireless hotspots the government set up a few weeks before. They weren’t going to let a little signal outage, or a rainstorm, stop them from trying to get online.

Over the last two decades, as the Internet spread across the planet, Cuba has been in digital isolation. Only the most privileged or crafty have been able to get connections: just 4.1 percent of Cuban households had the Internet as of 2013, the most recent data available, according to the UN International Telecommunications Union, and there is no public cellular data service. The only Internet cafés are branches of the state telephone company, where customers can use an archaic terminal under the surveillance of a government worker sitting a few feet away. Even those with home dial-up can rarely access sites outside the national “.cu” domain.

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