The dollar value of the Internet

Think for a moment about how often you use the Internet everyday. You check your email and the weather every morning from your smartphone. You watch a movie on Netflix on your laptop. You can connect to WiFi at almost any coffee shop. But, how much is it all worth?

While many of us cannot even fathom the idea of not having constant access to the Internet on our smart phones and laptops, there are regions in the world where the Internet is a very distant commodity. Cuba has not had much access to cyberspace until very recently, and even now, it is not within reach for many. It is a country very disconnected to the outside world, because of the lack of available information. The Cuban government is partially blaming this disconnection on the United States, because of the embargo. Obama did, however, loosen restrictions in 2009 to allow American companies to have agreements with service providers in Cuba, but there are no agreements in place yet.

Cuba has taken a step in the right direction by opening many new Internet salons. The telecom company Etecsa has recently opened 118 Internet salons in total, complete with air conditioning and up to eight desktop computers. Finally, citizens have a way of connecting with others around the world via the Internet. But, how much is someone willing to pay for such a service, especially someone in Cuba, hardly getting by on what money they make?

At one of these new Internet salons, the price to use the Internet is $4.50 an hour. In Cuba, that is almost a week’s worth of pay. How “accessible” is the Internet, when so few can afford to pay for it? The amount of Cubans that have broadband subscriptions is considered to be lower than in Sudan and Haiti, cities with very little technology.

In America, and even across Europe, we are surrounded by WiFi zones. Most homes have their own Internet subscription. Even our smart phones have a constant connection to the Internet. Many of us are even addicted to the Internet, or to the idea of being constantly connected with everyone we know (and don’t know) through cyberspace. And yet, in other countries, this idea is unfathomable. They do not have the access, or the money, to connect to cyberspace even once per week. For the Cubans who can afford to pay to use the Internet at a salon for 1-2 hours a week, it is still far from the average 8 hours a day the younger generations view the Internet every day.

In a world without Internet, how do you know what’s happening in the world? How do you stay connected with those you love living in other countries? Is the Internet a real priority that Cubans and those in other countries deserve access to, or is it something our culture has only labeled a priority because we can’t imaging living without it?

Information is from this NY Times article.

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