Cuban town hooked on pirate social network

Alexandre Grosbois –

On a traffic island in a country town, young Cubans are doing what most of their compatriots cannot: surfing an online social network.
In one of the least wired countries on Earth, Gaspar, population 7,500, is one of the most connected towns of all.
Illegally, but with the grudging tolerance of the authorities, four local techies have launched ‘Gaspar Social’, rural Cuba’s answer to Facebook.
“I think it’s wonderful what these lads here in Gaspar have done. It was a healthy change for a town that had rather lost its spark,” says Arletty Guerra, 22, one of the locals thumbing her smartphone.
Most Cubans must pay a $1.50 an hour to connect via state telecom firm Etecsa’s Wi-Fi points. Users of Gaspar Social do not.
Though they cannot access the world wide web via Gaspar Social, they can share photos and videos with other users in the town.
It opened to the general public in October — two months before Etecsa installed the town’s first official Wi-Fi hotspot.
“In the beginning, it was a network just for playing video games,” says one of its creators, municipal computer technician Osmani Montero, 23.
“Then we opened it to all the people in Gaspar and the number of users grew hugely in just a month.”
Yoandi Alvarez, 30, a medical student, raised money to buy the first aerial and server for the network. “The antenna was near my house.”
Some 500 of the town’s 7,500 inhabitants have started using Gaspar Social.
Cuba’s government has been gradually opening up the economy over the past decade. It has said it aims to provide Internet access to all Cubans by 2020. In a country of 11 million people, there are just 317 public Wi-Fi hotspots.
Gaspar Social is one of about 30 local networks launched by young amateurs in Cuba in recent years. They are unlicensed but the authorities tolerate them as long as they do not venture into politics.
Gaspar Social’s founders were called in last month after the network’s success came to the attention of the ruling Communist Party.
They thought they were going to get shut down — but the officials asked instructions to apply for a permit, raising hopes that the state may authorise projects like theirs. — AFP