Cuba is one of a handful of countries whose people still have very limited access to the Internet. While waiting for the government to live up to its promise of expanding connectivity, some enthusiasts have built their own local networks to communicate, share files and play games.
At community centers, authorized by the Ministry of Culture, young people use their mobile devices to take advantage of the free Wi-Fi connectivity.
Kevin, a visitor at one of the community centers, said even though the network doesn't have the highest speed and all, it's free.
"You can get on the Internet, most of the time,” he said.
Only a limited number of Cuban citizens have private Internet connections, which are not cheap. Foreigners can use the Internet at hotels, also at steep prices. The government’s promises of greater connectivity remain unfulfilled.
But private citizens do own computers and some of them are forming local networks to experiment, connect and socialize.
Marlon, a computer enthusiast, said in the absence of Internet connectivity, people have created forums — "servers with games where people share with each other," exchange ideas, and debate topics like sports, culture and music.
Cables usually run over the rooftops, in some cases connecting up to 10 people in the same neighborhood.
“The 10th cable is the one which makes the connection to all the others," said Marlon. "The 10th cable is connected to another switch, which is connected to another switch, and on and on. That is how the connection with other people is made.”
Computer game enthusiasts
Exchanging music and movies, and playing games do not attract the suspicion of the authorities, but discussions are another matter.
“Everybody knows that we are being watched and they can be very picky and jumpy because nobody wants to lose their investment," said Adrian, a computer nethusiast. " Nobody wants to lose their entertainment, the only alternative they have, and ... well, it's a complicated matter.”
Knowing that computer game enthusiasts in other countries play tournaments with distant fellow gamers, young Cubans hope that someday they, too, will be able to play over the Internet.
Marlon said they don't necessarily have to do that with the United States, but any other country. "But to do that," he added, "this local connection that we have must be turned into the Internet.”
Unfortunately, the Cuban government’s fear of the free flow of information may hamper their wishes for some time.