Black Markets and Secret Thumb Drives: How Cubans Get Online

Black Markets and Secret Thumb Drives: How Cubans Get Online

PC MagazineIn 2007, it was illegal to purchase a PC in Cuba. Now Cubans use a variety of crafty solutions to get online. How did we get here? Will Fenton travels to Havana to find out.

In 2009, Alan Gross faced 15 years in prison for setting up a Wi-Fi network in Cuba. Today I can sit on a bench in Havana with a Materva soda and a bag of chiviricos (fried dough) and surf the New York Times website using a government-issued navigation card.

Seven years ago, Gross traveled to Cuba under the auspices of the U.S. Agency for International Development and created three satellite Internet networks via Jewish synagogues in Havana, Santiago, and Camagüey. He was arrested, and served more than five years in prison before he was released through a prisoner exchange. 

That date—December 17, 2014—wasn’t just the day that Gross returned to the United States; it was also the day the Obama Administration announced it would begin to normalize relations after more than 50 years. Alan Gross was the linchpin in this so-called “Cuban thaw.”

When he created his underground networks, Gross used a Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) terminal about the size of a notebook. He positioned the terminal so it faced south toward a satellite, and nudged the panel until it could send a signal to the satellite that reflected down to a teleport. Connection established. For Gross, it was a moment of transcendence. “When you lock onto the satellite, you’ve lit a candle,” he said in an interview with PCMag. “It’s a feeling of elation. After I did it the first time, that’s all I wanted to do. Go around the world lighting candles.”  [Read more]

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