Cuba was one of the last countries to gain access to the internet, yet advances in new technology and changing attitudes towards digital trends from the government, mean the landscape is changing.
Internet access in Cuba has never been taken for granted by locals. Take María de los Ángeles for example, a Cuban doctor who retired at age 60 after serving as a neurologist for three decades.
María receives around 200 USD per month (exchanged to 187 CUC by the government) in remittance from her two daughters to cover expenses for food, sanitary products, electricity, mobile access and only until recently, internet access.
Like many Cubans, she now relies on the internet to stay in touch with her family abroad, something which up until now has remained very difficult.
However getting internet access can still be a tricky process for some Cubans. The guide below runs through a brief history of the internet in Cuba, further explaining the requirements and costs for locals in getting setup on the various internet services provided by Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba (ETECSA).
When did Cubans first get access to the internet?
Mass access to the internet is only a recent phenomenon to Cubans. During the late 90s and early 2000’s, while the rest of the world gained exponential access to the internet, Cubans were limited to a Cuban intranet (known as the 'Joven Club') which was only available in public institutions like universities and government buildings.
During the mid 2000's, a select few were granted limited access to the internet from their home. This connection was only offered to a small number of professionals like doctors, journalists and artists.
For those with the internet in Cuba at the time, it was only accessible by installing a dial-up modem, with browsing speeds at a maximum of 64kb/s.
Internet access for the decade languished, due to limited funding and a challenging political landscape.
By the end of 2010, it was estimated that only about 200 000 Cubans had access to the internet, a tiny figure in relation to the 10+ million population of the country at the time.
However in 2014 the landscape began to change suddenly. The state owned company ETECSA began installing wi-fi points around Cuba, now known as the ‘Nauta Wi-fi Service’. Since then, the government have continued to build new wi-fi points across the country, slowly allowing access to more and more Cubans.
In 2016 ETECSA rolled out its 'Nauta Hogar Service', allowing Cubans to access the ADSL network from the comfort of their homes.
The introduction of self-managed email and social media accounts in recent years have allowed Cubans to become more empowered, both as mobile phone and as a population as a whole.
How much does it cost Cubans to access the internet?
Access to public wi-fi in Cuba is charged by the amount of time connected rather than MB used. In January 2020, the rate was reduced from 1 CUC/hour to 0.70 CUC/hour.
For home internet connections, a one-time setup fee of 10 CUC is required and subsequently a monthly fee is billed. Rates start from 10 CUC and can cost up to 70 CUC a month.
Regardless of the ADSL speed purchased, users have access to 30 hours of browsing. This is the case for all plans except the 10 CUC plan, sometimes known as the 'email plan' which offers 20 hours of browsing a month.
For the 10 and 15 CUC Nauta plans, the first month is bill-free and for the remaining plans, a difference of 15 CUC is deducted from the first months bill. When users have exhausted their 30 hours, users can recharge their account at a cost of 0.50 CUC per hour.
Users can have their Nauta account recharged from abroad through top-up providers like Ding, which customers like Maria do with the help of her daughters. More information around your Nauta account setup can be found on our Nauta Hogar support page.
Mobile internet access in Cuba
In December 2018, Cuba made a momentous leap forward and was propelled into the digital world. 3G in Cuba was finally here. Almost a year later, ETECSA extended their data roaming to include 4G coverage.
To access 3G in Cuba, the mobile phone must work on the 900MHz or 2100 MHz bandwidth frequency. To enjoy the faster connection on the 4G network, the 1800 MHz frequency is required.
If a phone meets these requirements, an SMS is sent to the number notifying that the 3G network can be accessed, where the user must then reply to confirm their setup by dialing *133#.
For more information on getting setup on your Cubacel account, see our help page on mobile internet access in Cuba.
Prices for 3G/4G internet access in Cuba
4G internet access in Cuba is sometimes limited, depending on the user’s device and location, with speeds varying between 10-50 MB/sec.
Default rates to browse the internet without buying a package cost 0.10 CUC per MB and 0.02 CUC per MB when browsing on local Cuban sites.
Fast forward to 2020 and you'll find that due to the high price of the Cubacel plans compared to the average salary of Cubans, having 3G access isn't possible for many.
This is why a large portion of local Cubans rely on remittance from abroad to afford the relatively high costs of the Cubacel data plans. Top-up platforms such as Ding allow those living abroad to top-up Cubacel numbers online.
Internet in Cuba today
By the end of 2019 more than 4 million Cubans had access to internet across the country. Most of these internet connections are made through the 709 wi-fi zones and more than 200 dedicated internet rooms (known as ‘navigation rooms’) across parks, hotels and other downtown areas of the island. It is estimated around 2.5 million Cubans have 3G connectivity.
With more than two million Cubans living overseas, the arrival of the internet has allowed those living outside of Cuba to communicate with friends and family back home, something which until now remained difficult.
The expansion of internet access in Cuba has allowed locals, especially the younger generations, to increase their online presence on social networks such as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Entrepreneurs have created new online businesses like Bajanda and La nave, an Uber-like app for locals.
Cubans queuing at a local ETECSA store, often to pay their landlines invoices or purchase Nauta and Cubacel recharge cards.
María is one customer who benefits from the help of her daughters sending top-up to Cuba. Each month she receives $20 USD worth of Cubacel top-up to keep her mobile phone connected.
‘My daughters are always waiting for promotions and they send recharge to me monthly as if it were a religion. They can’t see me disconnected because they immediately care and call me’.
Sending recharge to mobile phones from abroad has played a fundamental role to help Cubans access the internet. Mobile top-up services like Ding fill the gap where the countries telecom infrastructure makes it difficult and often too expensive for locals to top-up themselves.
Send a top-up to Cuba today and stay connected with those who matter most.