Thursday, May 11, 2017

Why not connect the Gaspar Social streetnet to the Internet?

Grupo creativo Gaspar Social (source)
I've been covering Cuban streetnets (local area networks with independent users that are not connected to the Internet) for some time. Reader Doug Madory told me about Gaspar Social, a new streetnet in Gaspar, a small town in central Cuba. Gaspar Social opened to the public last October and has grown quickly -- about 500 of Gaspar's 7,500 residents are now users.

Streetnets are illegal in Cuba and the government has ignored some and cracked down on others, but they seem to be tolerating them now as long as they remain apolitical and avoid pornography and other controversial material. Last month, Communist Party officials noticed Gaspar Social but did not shut it down. Yoandi Alvarez, one of the network creators, said "they made it clear our network was illegal but they wouldn't be taking our antennas down" and they were given instructions for applying for a permit.

So, residents of Gaspar can play games, download software, share files, socialize, etc., but they can not access the global Internet. Why not connect Gaspar Social to the Internet?

Gaspar is in the province of Ciego de Ávila and the capital city is Ciego de Ávila. ETECSA has six WiFi hotspots and three navigation rooms in Ciego de Ávila and, as a provincial capital, the city must have many government, medical and educational users. In other words, there must be relatively fast backhaul to the Internet in Ciego de Ávila.

Connecting Gaspar to Ciego de Ávila seems like it would be cheap and easy. As you see below, they are only 28.2 kilometers apart on the road (25 kilometers as the crow flies) and the terrain is flat. (Gaspar's elevation is 5.1 meters and Ciego de Ávila's 49 meters).

They could be connected with a high-speed wireless link or fiber. The flat terrain favors a wireless link and the road could provide a right-of-way for fiber. Installing 28 kilometers of fiber would be expensive in the US, but Cuba is not the US. One can imagine a community project using International Telecommunication Union (ITU) L.1700 cable. (For an example of a community fiber project, in Bhutan, click here).

ETECSA is the elephant in this hypothetical room. The ITU tracks regulatory evolution and, as of 2013, Cuba was one of the few remaining first-generation (regulated public monopoly) nations.

I suggested earlier that ETECSA consider streetnets as complementary collaborators rather than competitors or outlaws and last year they allowed a small streetnet to connect to a WiFi hotspot.

Cuba has a well-deserved reputation for improvisation and appropriate-technology innovation. I am not suggesting that they jump suddenly to fourth-generation regulation (regulation led by economic and social policy goals), but that they run a pilot test, connecting Gaspar Social to the Internet.

Here is a short video (1:56) on Gaspar Social:

And here is a longer video (13:48) with interviews of the network creators:

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