General university education should be a predictor of wide adoption and use of the Internet when it becomes available and computer science education can give us some idea of the availability of future technicians. Cuba has 17 universities and 25 professional and technical schools offering specialization in information and communication technology.86
The newest and most prominent of these is the specialized University of Informatics Science (UCI). UCI was founded in 2002 with 300 teachers and 2008 students, and by 2007 had over 10,000 students. Roughly half of the students are women, and they have opened regional faculties in the provinces of Havana, Granma and Ciego de Avila, but 73 percent of the planned 2010/11 class comes from the city of Havana which has only 21% of the Cuban population.87 The UCI curriculum mixes coursework with practical experience – the goals are to educate professionals in the computer science filed and to produce software and informatics services.88 They offer studies in three areas, undergraduate and graduate computer science and technology-based education. By U. S. standards, the university Web site has very little detailed information. There are no details on the graduate and teaching technology programs, just one page descriptions. The courses included in the undergraduate curriculum are listed, but none of the material one would expect to find on a U. S. university Web site -- course descriptions, syllabi, notes, etc. is provided.
The five-year, ten-semester undergraduate curriculum is summarized in Table 12.89 I have categorized 18 of the classes as “computer science.” I compared this with the undergraduate computer science curriculum at my university,90 a typical state college, and Carnegie Mellon,91 a leading research university. Both require 14 computer science courses for a BS. No course descriptions were given for UCI, but I suspect that the Cuban courses, like those at my university, are less rigorous and theoretical than those at Carnegie Mellon. Carnegie Mellon also offers a wide array of computer science electives, while my university and UCI constrain the options.
The curricula diverge more widely when we go beyond the computer science courses. The Cuban students spend time on foreign language (English), physical education and professional practice, which are absent from the U. S. curricula, and they also take a little more math than their U. S. counterparts. U. S. students have a wider assortment of humanities and social science electives to choose from.
The work-study balance – ten semesters of professional practice and three studying business topics – differentiates UCI from the U. S. universities. Students are expected to work on useful applications in education, health, sport, online government, writing software and building Web portals and developing multimedia products.
This practical experience is a significant and valuable part of their education; however, in many cases they will be learning technology that is outdated in many nations. We have gone through roughly four generations of platform for developing and delivering IT applications – batch processing, timesharing, personal computer, and the Internet. Cuba remains largely in the third, personal computer, generation while the rest of the world is increasingly using the Internet as a platform for developing and delivering applications. This impacts both user sophistication and expectations and the skills being taught to technologists. Cuba will fall even further behind current practice as the world moves to the mobile Internet as an application delivery platform. They are just now rolling out last generation mobile technology.
Cuban students are expected to produce value while they learn, but their education is free. By way of contrast, tuition at Carnegie Mellon, a private university, is $41,500 per year and my California state university charges out of state students $10,170 per year and in state students $3,377 per year.
The Cuban model, stressing practical experience and paying for one’s education by working, has the potential for being pedagogically effective and it is also economically egalitarian. Of course the actual results would depend upon the quality of the classroom education and the ability to find practical projects that were both pedagogically efficient and valuable to the society. Well educated students should also be able to move from second to third and fourth generation tools if and when the Internet is modernized.
Sectorial absorption and sophistication of use The Mosaic framework considers the degree to which the Internet is being applied in the education, health, government, and commercial sectors and the sophistication of that application – the degree to which it introduces novelty, altering individual’s lives, organizations and society. Based on informal, anecdotal Web surfing, we found the general level of sophistication of applications to be low. This is a result of Cuba’s non-commercial values and the state of their Internet infrastructure.
By Cuban standards, the health sector is relatively strong. As noted above, Infomed, the health care network, had connections in every provincial capital in 1998. Today, there is Internet access in clinics, hospitals and institutes throughout the nation (Table 13). However, as noted above, this access is typically to a shared computer. There are over 31 Infomed users per computer with Internet access.
Table , Use of information and communication technology in the health sector, 2009.92
By Cuban standards, the Infomed Web site is well done and has a lot of content. It is a portal with blog and links to a wide variety of medical literature and statistics. There are also links to significant portals for 50 diseases and specialties. The Informed Web site is atypically open. For example, there are links to Pub Med and the Public Library of Science. Most Cuban Web sites are in Cuban content silos.
The Infomed site and sub-portals are attractive, well-organized, content-rich Web 1.0 sites. I did not see things like Web services, application programming interfaces, collaborative projects and databases, rich media, AJAX user interfaces, etc. that we expect today. This is not a reflection on the Infomed staff – the site is appropriate for the Cuban Internet.
Cuban schools are poorly equipped. Table 12 shows the number of Internet-connected computers in schools at various levels. (Unfortunately, we were unable to find data for universities).
Pre and primary
Technical and professional
Number of centers
Specialization in ICT
Number of computers
With Internet access
Table , Table 12, Use of information and communication technology in education, 2009.93 In 2008, the World Bank reported that Cuba had 871,444 primary and 637,177 secondary pupils, or 559 and 208 students per computer.94 Those contention ratios indicate that faculty and staff use the Internet in school, not students. As noted above, the YCCs also offer classes, but the majority of those are on stand-alone applications using stand-alone computers.
We also noted that university Web sites present less content than would a typical university in a developed nation. We have come to expect online catalogs and, grades and grade reporting, course descriptions, syllabi, course notes, online lectures, faculty research and publications, experimental and production Web services, etc. on university Web sites, and they are not to be found in Cuba.
We found government Web sites even less informative than those of the universities. The Web site of the Ministry of Information and Communication, which one would expect to be exemplary, is an example. As mentioned above, it consists of blog-type news and announcements along with links to what are by and large short, static Web pages devoted to describing the mission of some portion of the ministry, bragging about achievement, and clarifying bureaucratic hierarchy and relationships. The top level links are:
Computerization of society
Control and supervision
Again, we saw none of the e-government applications and technologies we take for granted in developed or some developing nations.95 There are also a number of broken or incomplete links.
The MIC server was slower than some others in Cuba. We pinged it 25 times and found an average of 1,344 milliseconds, with a minimum of 1,220 and a maximum of 1,344. Later in the day (during the evening in Havana) it had improved to an average of 633 milliseconds, with a minimum of 628 and a maximum of 654.
The Ministry runs another site on the computerization of society.96 This site has archives of a newsletter that was last published in 2006. There is also a searchable database of Cuban Web sites, which seemed promising at first. A search for sites dealing with information and communication technology turned up 88 sites, but many of the links were broken, others were aliases, leading to the same site, and at least one was an ecommerce site selling Cuban consumer goods (The store in your home).
To make matters worse, the links were displayed on a background of error warning messages (Figure 8).
Figure 8, List of sites with error messages in the background.
This may be an extreme example, but like many other Cuban Web sites, it has the feeling of a time warp -- an unfinished undergraduate HTML/PHP project done around 1996, replete with error messages, broken links and a “cool” script displaying the current date.
Another anomaly on many government Web sites is a notice of copyright at the bottom of each page. It is surprising to see concern for copyright in a communist nation, particularly on a government site. The MIC Web gives permission to copy the material as long as the source is cited, but does not link to Creative Commons. In fact, we did not find any links to Creative Commons licenses on Cuban sites we visited, and take this as an indication of ignorance of mainstream developments in the wider Internet community.
We have singled out the MIC site because it should demonstrate Cuba's best practice, but, in reality there is no reason for it to. E-government is geared toward improved transparency and processing transactions and providing other government services. Transparency is intended to make democracy more efficient, but Cuba is not a democratic state, and the provision of services and transaction processing requires pervasive access to the Internet, which is also absent in Cuba.
As we saw above, Cuba has fewer secure Web servers per capita than any nation in Latin America or the Caribbean. Secure Web servers are a proxy for commercial application, and it is not surprising that e-commerce is not a priority in a poor, communist nation. In line with the goals and achievements of the revolution, health and education seem to take priority. Outside of tourism, we found only a little consumer-oriented electronic commerce and no business-oriented electronic commerce.
Sectorial absorption and sophistication of use are low by the standards of any developed nation. The current state of application and sophistication of use is not far removed from that of the days of their first Internet connectivity. Cuban Web sites are “Web 1.0” and have therefore not had a strong impact on the government or commerce. The impact of the Internet upon Cuban education and health care has been greater, but it is far less than it would be if Cuba had the international connectivity and domestic infrastructure of a moderately developed nation. Ironically, the most sophisticated users of the Internet might be the globally visible Cuban blogging community, which is often critical of the government.
Conclusion Cuba established their first persistent IP connection to the Internet in September 1996. That was a little more than five years after the National Science Foundation changed its acceptable use policy97 to allow commercial use of the Internet. Internet data was primarily text, programs and some images.98 The Web was new and consisted of static pages. The Request for Comments documenting HTTP, the standard used for the Web, had just been published in May 1996.
At the time of their connection to the Internet, Cuba was not far behind the mainstream. The Cuban Internet lagged in speed and pervasiveness, but was close to developed nations in application sophistication. We were all using the Internet in the same ways -- sending text and an occasional image via email or list servers, posting text documents on Gopher servers, discussing issues in text-based news groups, transferring program and data files between computers and logging on to command-line interfaces on remote hosts.
Furthermore, the early technical community in Cuba had the same enthusiasm for and confidence in the importance of the emerging Internet as their colleagues in the rest of the world. They attended conferences and workshops and were full citizens of the early, global Internet culture. They knew the Internet would change the lives of individuals, organizations and society. But they were not able to participate in those changes, and that is sad for them, for Cuba and for the rest of the world.
During the ensuing 15 years, the Internet exploded while Cuba stood still. The Cuban Internet was frozen in time by the U. S. embargo, the dictator’s dilemma, and the Cuban economy.
Figure 9 shows the dramatic growth in Web hosts since 1995, and as dramatic as the spread of the Web has been, changes in applications, types and quantity of data and hardware and software technology have been even more important in widening the gap between Cuba and the rest of the world.
Figure 9, Web host growth, August 1995 - December 2010.99
The BIT-L newsletter serves as an example.100 Years before Cuba was connected to the Internet, Jorge Espresate X. started a newsletter on developments in computing. The newsletter contained brief descriptions of the week’s articles, and was distributed via a list server. One retrieved an article by emailing a GET command with the article ID number to the server, which then emailed a return copy of the article. That was common practice at the time. The list is operating the same way today.
BIT-L was an email-based blog long before there were Web-based blogs. Had he been in the US, there is no doubt that Espresate would have been an early tech blogger, and he might well have gone on to become a podcaster, video podcaster, and head of an Internet broadcast network like TWIT.TV. It is sad that Cubans have stood by while we have been able to use and build upon the Internet.
But, this is not the end of the story. There is a great deal of pent up demand for Internet infrastructure and application in Cuba, along with a healthy, well educated population. The Castro government has been in power since 1959 and the displaced Cubans in Florida, New Jersey and the rest of the United States are aging. At some point, change in Cuban and U. S. policy will lead to a more open economy and favorable environment for investment and trade. When that time comes, we expect technology leapfrogging and rapid expansion of the Cuban Internet.
We will benefit along with Cubans when that happens. They will not only use the Internet they will bring their values and culture to it. The keynote speaker at the opening plenary session of the Info '97 Conference in Havana was Osvaldo Bebelagua, a Cuban information technology leader, who opened his address with a poem urging innovation and concluding that “on a young path, no traveler is old.”101 He went on to speak of hopes and fears for a networked society, stressing his concern that the Internet may lead to increased gaps between rich and poor nations and people within nations. His talk was followed by chamber music. Who knows what technology and applications might follow from such concerns?
Appendix 1. Internet pervasiveness indicators from Latin America and the Caribbean.102
Fixed broadband Internet subscribers (per 100 people)