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Cuba's Odd Emphasis on the National Intranet

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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:

Written by Larry Press, Professor of Information Systems at California State University

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