HAVANA (Reuters) - Cubans remain extraordinarily isolated from information technology, with only 2.9 percent reporting regular use of the Internet and 5.8 percent regular use of e-mail, according to a government survey released on Thursday.
Just 2.6 percent said they regularly used cell phones, according to the poll conducted by the National Statistics Office and posted on its web page (ONE.CU).
The statistics office (www.one.cu/tic.htm), which queried 38,000 homes, found almost all users accessed the Internet at work or school, as few have it at home.
Internet access in the Communist-run country is highly restricted and users must obtain government authorization.
Cuba’s failure to embrace modern telecommunications is a major complaint among citizens under 50 years old, who cite it as one of the reasons they seek to migrate abroad.
Revolutionary Cuba largely blames its technological isolation on the United States trade embargo against the island.
The government’s 2009 statistical abstract reported that there were 1.6 million Internet users, or 14.2 per 100 residents, but in most cases they used a government-controlled intranet with limited access to the world wide web.
Cuba’s Internet use trails much of the world and all of its neighbors.
In Jamaica, Internet access was 53.27 per 100 inhabitants in 2008 and in the Dominican Republic 25.87 percent, the International Telecommunications Union reported in 2009.
In Haiti, just 10.42 percent had Internet access, the ITU said.
Cuba only legalized cell phones in 2008 and as of the end of 2009, there were 800,000 being used in the country, according to government figures.
Including mobile and land lines, Cuba has just 1.8 million phone lines, or 15.5 for every 100 people, the lowest in its region, the ITU said.
The poll found that 31.4 percent of respondents had access to computers, but more than 85 percent said the computers were located at work or school. Cuba legalized the purchase of computers in 2008.
There is no broadband in Cuba and the relatively few Internet users in the country suffer through long waits to open an e-mail, let alone view a photo or video. This also hampers government and business operations.
Access to satellite television was not included in the survey as it is illegal without special permission from the government and authorities regularly raid neighborhoods and homes in search of satellite equipment.
The government says the 48-year-old U.S. trade sanctions force it to get the Internet via satellite, which is expensive and slow.
Plans to lay a fiber optic cable with Venezuela have been repeatedly delayed.
Last year, in a move easing some aspects of the embargo, President Barack Obama allowed U.S. telecommunications firms to offer services in Cuba as part of a strategy to increase “people to people” contact.
While Cuba’s leaders welcomed the move, they reiterated their demand that Washington completely lift the embargo and to date there has been no progress, business sources said.
Various mobile phone companies recently petitioned the U.S. administration to loosen regulations further.
Cuban officials say data for use and ownership of computers and telephones is misleading, as priority is given to using telecommunications technology for “social causes” such as health and education.
The poll, performed in February and March, questioned respondents about their Internet and cell phone use during the previous 12 months. It had a margin error of under five percent, the statistics office said.
Editing by Jeff Franks and Jackie Frank