Cuba's Telecom Monopoly Banning Text Messages Containing Words Like 'Democracy'
from the that'll-work dept
The door to modernizing Cuba’s communications networks opened slightly wider recently after the FCC removed the country from the agency’s banned nation list. That allows fixed and wireless companies alike to begin doing business in Cuba as part of an overall attempt to ease tensions between the States and the island nation. And while Cuba has been justly concerned about opening the door to NSA bosom buddies like AT&T and Verizon, it’s still apparently not quite ready to give up some of its own, decidedly ham-fisted attempts to crack down on free speech over telecom networks.
A recent investigative report by blogger Yoani Sanchez and journalist Reinaldo Escobar found that the nation has been banning certain words sent via text message with the help of state-owned telecom monopoly ETECSA. The report, confirmed in an additional investigation by Reuters, found that roughly 30 different keywords are being banned by Cuba’s government, including “democracy,” “human rights,” and the name of several activists and human rights groups. Words containing such keywords simply aren’t delivered, with no indication given to the sender of the delivery failure.
Initially, the researchers thought this was just incompetence on the part of ETECSA:
“Eliecer Avila, head of opposition youth group Somos Mas, which participated in the investigation, said 30 key words that triggered the blocking had been identified but there could be more.
“We always thought texts were vanishing because the provider is so incompetent, then we decided to check using words that bothered the government,” he said. “We discovered not just us but the entire country is being censored,” he said. “It just shows how insecure and paranoid the government is.”
You can understand some degree of paranoia when you’ve got the United States and Russia battling over who gets to bone graft surveillance technology into your fledgling communications networks, but the clumsy censorship also isn’t too surprising for a nation that still bans advertising across the island.
That said, the real problem for most Cubans remains that broadband and wireless communications is a luxury commodity well out of reach of most residents. Only between 5 and 25% of Cubans even have access to the internet, and while many can access Wi-Fi via hotspots opened just last year, the cost of connection is roughly $2 an hour, or around a tenth of the average monthly Cuban salary. As such, Cubans are “fortunate” in that they can’t yet even afford to be comprehensively spied on.