Has the Internet arrived in Cuba? Sort of, here's how...
The Internet in Cuba
ETECSA and the prepaid card
The Cuban government has allowed the national telecommunications company ETECSA to provide internet service to hotels who can then turn around and sell the service to their clients. This takes the form of a small card, about business card size and individually plastic wrapped, with a ‘user login number’ and scratch off ‘password’. Prices for these cards vary between 3 and 6 CUCs.
To use the card you may be able to use a desktop machine at a hotel or you can connect your own WiFi capable device within range of the hotel’s signal. Either way you will have to open a web browser to the ETECSA login page and enter your credentials to start. If you are using your own device you may have to trouble shoot this step by manipulating various privacy and security settings. Once connected a countdown starts from one hour and you will be able to freely use the internet.
Keep in mind that speeds are slow and bandwidth is shared by however many users are under the same WiFi umbrella at any given time so results may vary drastically but, with some patience and perhaps a few tries, it is possible to perform most tasks short of video transfer and/or streaming. For instance checking email, Facebook, using messaging apps and even posting to Instagram are all possible. YouTube and downloading from the app store are less likely to be successful.
In addition to hotel lobbies cards can also be bought on the street though the legality of this transaction is questionable at best. That said, people do it all the time so here’s how that works…
There are a few public spaces where the ETECSA WiFi signal is accessible – typically plazas and parks near large hotels – and cards can be found. The best way to know if you’re in one is to look for lots of Cubans using smart phones, tablets and even laptops out in the open. Once you’ve found internet users go stand near them and look for someone to sell you a card. They are inconspicuous because what they are doing is technically illegal but unless there are police around they will likely spot you first and flash you a card for sale. They will sell you the same card you get from hotels for 3 CUC.
- If you do not want to use your entire 60 minutes in one sitting you can log off – either from the ETECSA site where you see the countdown or simply disable your WiFi connection – and your remaining minutes are saved.
- When you want to use the internet again with a partially full card login in exactly the same way as when the card was new.
- If you plan on using the internet try and purchase your cards in the morning because supplies are limited and vendors may run out.
- If you can find an ETECSA office you may be able to purchase the same one hour cards for 2 CUC but you have to be very early since this is where the street vendors are getting their cards to resell and often buy out the store within a few minutes of when it opens. There is an ETECSA office on Obispo, a main tourist artery off the Central Park.