Internet access in Cuba is a study in resilience. By the official numbers, the island seems hopelessly disconnected: Cuba ranked last in the Americas in the ITU’s 2016 ICT development index, having only 5.6% household Internet penetration, and international bandwidth per user measures a mere 572 bits/s. Yet Cubans have developed a number of bottom-up, community-oriented responses to these limitations.
This talk will focus on three indigenous networks that aren't seen by the typical tourist. These include “El Paquete”, a sneaker-net distribution of media files that’s passed around the country on USB sticks and hard drives, and which may be Cuba’s largest source of private employment. There is also the Cuban educational network, which connects more than 20 higher education institutions around the country. Perhaps most unusual is Havana’s “Street Network”, or SNET, a vast unsanctioned IP network, constructed by volunteers using salvaged equipment. Though entirely isolated from the Internet, the SNET connects over 50,000 residential users across the capital city, and it’s home to a vibrant community and hundreds of websites.
In describing these three systems, we'll draw lessons about what is necessary for network communities to survive and thrive in the island’s challenging environment, including places where flexibility and compromise have been essential. Cuba presents a highly unusual regulatory and technological environment, and the approaches that have succeeded there are both inspiring and demonstrative of what communities can (and can't) accomplish through organic, distributed networks.