June 18, 2010 / 3:29 PM / in 7 years

Cuba reports little Internet and telecom progress

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cubans’ ability to communicate with one another and the world remained well below the norm for the Caribbean and Latin America in 2009, according to a government report released this week.

Despite the legalization of mobile phones in 2008 there were just 1.8 million phone lines in the country, or 15.5 lines for every 100 inhabitants, which was the lowest in the region, according to the United Nations International Telecommunications Union.

Some 800,000 of the phones were mobiles.

Computers numbered 700,000 or 62 per 1,000 residents, compared with more than 160 per thousand residents in the region, and many were in government offices, health and education facilities.

There is no broadband in Cuba and the relatively few Internet users in the country suffer through agonizingly long waits to open an e-mail, let alone view a photo or video. This also hampers government and business operations.

Cuba blames the United States embargo, saying it must use a satellite system and is limited in the space it can buy.

Last year, in a move easing some aspects of Washington’s 48-year-old embargo against Cuba, 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.

The Cuban state monopolizes communications and dominates the economy.

While the National Statistics Office reported on its web page (www.one.cu/ticencifras2009.htm) that there were 1.6 million Internet users, or 14.2 per 100 residents, in most cases this was to a government intranet.

In Jamaica, Internet access was 53.27 per 100 inhabitants in 2008, the Dominican Republic 25.87 percent and in Haiti 10.42 percent, the ITU reported.

Access to satellite television was also severely restricted. In Cuba, satellite TV access is illegal without special permission from the government and authorities regularly raid neighborhoods and homes in search of receptors.

Officials insist the data for individual use and ownership of computers and telephones is misleading, as priority is given to social use of telecoms technology, from health and education to government-operated computer clubs in every municipality.

Cuba and ally Venezuela have formed a joint venture to lay cable between the two countries, but completion of the project is at least a year off.

Cuba’s failure to embrace modern telecoms is a major complaint among citizens under 50 years old, who cite it as one of the reasons they seek to migrate abroad.

Editing by Jeff Franks and Doina Chiacu

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