Watch: mobile internet rings the changes in Cuba

The smartphone ride-sharing app Sube works similarly to Uber
The smartphone ride-sharing app Sube works similarly to Uber Copyright Reuters
By Lindsey JohnstoneReuters
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In the first 40 days that people could start buying mobile internet access, 1.8 million Cubans did.


Havana locals can now summon one of Cuba's famous classic cars using thoroughly modern technology.

Mobile internet is ringing the changes in the island nation, one of the last countries to join the digital age, and young Cubans are eagerly developing apps – including Sube, a ride-sharing service similar to Uber which lets users hail ageing American sedans on the streets of Havana.

The app's designer Claudia Cuevas, 26, said: "Sometimes we would be in the street waiting and we would think, where are all the taxis? Now you can call them using the application, not calling them directly but you can publicise your trip and any taxi available can respond to your request."

In the first 40 days since December 6, when Cuba began allowing its citizens internet access via mobile phones, 1.8 million Cubans – from a population of 11m – bought the 3G access packages. A government report last week said that around 6.4m residents now use the internet and social networks.

Previously, nearly all Cubans could only use their mobile phones to access their state-run email accounts, unless they connected to the internet at a limited number of government-sponsored wifi spots.

Government officials and foreign businesspeople have been able to use their mobiles to access the 3G network in recent years, though not always reliably.

The history of the internet in Cuba has been rife with tensions and suspicions since the 1990s.

Cuba accused Washington of blocking its access to the fibre optic cables near the island, forcing it to use an expensive and slow satellite service.

It was only in 2011 that Cuba gained access to a submarine cable with the help of Venezuela.

And it wasn't until 2015 that the general population was able to connect, through the opening of wifi points in hundreds of public parks.

Critics of Cuba's communist government said it resisted giving its citizens free access to the internet because it feared a free inflow of information, while its supporters said it was fighting efforts by Washington to undermine its government and revolution.

Julio Aguirre Lusson, 25, a DJ who has a YouTube channel called TecnoLike, says he has noticed the impact.

Aguirre said, however, that there are still many limitations from both outside and inside Cuba.

For example, there are obstacles facing local developers who want to enter their products in locations such as the Google Play Store.

And in Cuba, developers face paralysis in the delivery of operating licences so they can work within a legal framework.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, an engineer, opened a Twitter account in October 2018 and recently instructed his ministers and senior leaders to do the same.

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