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Cuba restricts citizens' web access.

In Cuba, citizens can send and receive e-mail and surf a Cuban intranet, but they are barred from accessing the World Wide Web.

President Fidel Castro's government says restricting access to the Internet is necessary in poor developing countries where the telecommunications infrastructure is insufficient. Communications Minister Ignacio Gonzalez told the media that Cuba lacks the bandwidth to allow unrestricted access to the internet and blamed trade sanctions imposed on his country by the United States. But critics maintain that Cuba has repressed Internet access to stop the free flow of information and stifle dissent in the communist-run nation. The state strictly controls all Web servers and recently announced plans to crack down on illegal Internet access.

E-mail access is allowed, but it comes at a price. The Cuban Postal Service offers e-mail accounts with a three-hour prepaid card for $4.50--one-third of the average Cuban workers' monthly wage. That price allows Cubans to e-mail friends and family abroad, but there is often a two-hour or more wait to get into one of the computer rooms. At the cyber cafe in Havana's International Business Center, patrons must show identification and sign a contract just to open an e-mail account.

Despite the restrictions, connectivity has grown quickly in Cuba, a nation of 11 million. There are 270,000 computers in the country, 65 percent of which are connected to Cuba's Web, according to the government. Cuban domain names, which end in .cu, have multiplied to 1,100, some of which are used solely for e-mail, and there are now 750 Cuban Internet sites, most of which are dedicated to Cuban tourism or criticizing the United States. Cuba has more than 480,000 e-mail accounts, roughly the number of users, but only 98,000 users can legally surf the Internet, according to government figures.

Those Cubans authorized to access the Internet do so through their work places in government offices, hospitals, universities, research centers, state-run media, artists and writers unions, or foreign companies. But other Cubans are increasingly bypassing state control via a black market for stolen or borrowed log-on identities and passwords, costing up to $50 a month.

In December 2003, the Cuban government began a crackdown on unauthorized Internet usage, ordering the state telephone monopoly ETECSA to stop illegal access. Days after the decree, the main Internet service provider in Cuba--state-run E.net--responded to a wave of protests by announcing that home users could connect if they paid in cash at a prohibitive rate of 8 cents a minute. While the high cost may limit usage, many critics see the rule to pay in cash as an attempt to further tighten control over Internet use and freedom of expression.
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Title Annotation:Up front: news, trends & analysis
Author:Swartz, Nikki
Publication:Information Management Journal
Geographic Code:5CUBA
Date:Mar 1, 2004
Words:449
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