Cuba Networking Update
By Larry Press<email@example.com> and Carlos Armas <serverdos.cigb.edu.cu>.
An earlier article (Press and Snyder) summarized the state of
Cuban networking in 1992. At that time, there was limited international
connectivity via X.25 and a single, unreliable dial-up UUCP link.
All international traffic was routed through CENIAI, the Center
for Automated Information Interchange of the Cuban Academy of
Sciences, which also provided gateway service for several small
intranational networks. Approximately twice a week, Web/NIRV-an
Association for Progressive Computing (APC) affiliate in Toronto,
Canada-called CENIAI and exchanged international traffic.
1 At times communication would be interrupted for a week or more
because of financial or technical problems.
In spite of economic crisis and the continued deterioration of
an obsolete telephone infrastructure, Cuban networks have grown
substantially since 1992.2 Today there are four networks with international connectivity:
CENIAI, Tinored, CIGBnet, and InfoMed.
CENIAI began networking in 1982 and has had a UUCP link to the
Internet since 1991. CENIAI currently offers e-mail, database
access, mail lists, and programming and consulting services, and
maintains a presence on a Gopher server located in Uruguay. CENIAI
has long wished international IP connectivity and a national backbone.
It has a registered class-b IP address. It plans to offer dial-up
PPP access in the near future.
Tinored (Tino, a Cuban cartoon character, is the logo of Tino
Network, and red means network) was established by Cuban Youth
Computer Clubs-an organization with the explicit support of Fidel
Castro-which operates 150 walk-in computer centers throughout
the nation (Press). One hundred of these have Tinored e-mail accounts,
and approximately 80 have working (2,400 bps) modems. Tinored
is also a gateway for Red David, which supports at least 31 nongovernmental
CIGBnet is the network of the Center for Genetic Engineering and
Biotechnology and affiliated institutions (Armas). It has a central
site in Havana and three remote sites. CIGBnet began in 1991 and
has grown to 900 users. It provides e-mail, database access, a
biological sequence server, mailing lists, and Gopher and Web
servers (accessible only from the main center). CIGB staff have
developed their own mail-based database server, off-line mail
package, and sequencing server software, and they are continuing
InfoMed, the network of the National System of Health Information
of the Cuban Ministry of Health, has been operating since 1992.
It has 500 accounts, 80 percent of which are shared by more than
one person within an organization, and it provides e-mail, discussion
groups, file retrieval, database search, and consultation. While
it currently operates a single node in Havana, InfoMed is building
a distributed network with 13 servers in Cuban medical schools
with support from the Pan American Health Organization and UNESCO.
Table 1, below, summarizes the four networks with international
gateways as well as the more important subnetworks they serve:
Table 1. Four International Networks and Selected Subnets
It should be stressed that these networks are not comparable to
large university and corporate networks in North America or Western
Europe. The smaller networks are typically time-sharing systems-PCs
running UNIX-with accounts for local and remote individuals and
organizations. Larger networks, like CENIAI and CIGBnet, have
Ethernet local area networks, with Netware file servers and UNIX
application servers. For example, the CIGB central location has
four 486-based servers running Netware and four running UNIX.
Local users may have IP connectivity to the servers, but remote
users have dial-up shell accounts or make UUCP transfers. Clients
are nearly all PCs running DOS or Windows. They have 150 386-
and 486-based client systems with 48 megabytes (MB) of RAM and
40- to 120-MB disks. (These are shared by 850 central office users).
Each of their three remote locations has a single PC running DOS
and communicating with the central office via UUCP over X.25 or
2,400-bps dial-up. (These machines are shared by 100 remote users).
CENIAI, CIGBNet, and Tinored route their international traffic
through Web/NIRV. According to Riff Fullan, Web/NIRV international
cooperation coordinator, they call CIGBnet six times a day and
Tinored twice a day (Fullan). CENIAI calls Web/NIRV two to four
times daily depending on needs. Plans have been laid to increase
the daily Tinored call frequency to six shortly. Cuban traffic
volumes in a typical month are shown in Table 2 below:
Table 2: Monthly Cuban Internet Traffic (K bytes)
InfoMed has links through GreenNet, an APC affiliate in the UK.
InfoMed has not yet responded to my request for traffic figures.
There is also X.25 connectivity for interactive applications and
the exchange of UUCP traffic between networks. In 1992 CENIAI
was Cuba's connection to IASnet, an X.25 network for socialist
countries operated by VNIIPAS (All Union Scientific Research Institute
for Applied Computerized Systems) in Moscow. VNIIPAS had multiple
links to Western data networks, including a link to Sprint. The
link to IASnet has been discontinued, but there are three X.25
networks in Cuba today: Cubanet, RENACYT, and the tourism network.
Cubanet is a commercial network serving joint-venture enterprises
and some tourism. It was formed by the people who had operated
the original IASnet link at CENIAI and is operated by Intertel,
the international arm of the Cuban phone company, ETECSA, or Empresa
de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba.3 Cubanet connects through an X.75 backbone to DATAPAC in Canada.
The prices take it out of reach of the Cuban academic community.
A dial-up connection to Cubanet costs $32 per month plus usage
charges of $0.31 per minute and $0.34 per kilocharacter. Such
rates are high, but they provide the reliable, interactive communication
needed for financial transactions, credit card verification, hotel
reservations, and so forth.
RENACYT, the National Network of Science and Technology, belongs
to the Ministry of Sciences, Technology and Environment, as does
CENIAI. It is an academic/research network for UUCP exchange as
well as limited interactive access to, for example, the CIGBnet
Gopher server. InfoMed, Tinored, CENIAI, CNCnet, Biomundi, and
ICIDnet all use RENACYT as well as dial-up for UUCP exchange.
For example, CIGBnet uses RENACYT for exchanges with CENIAI, InfoMed,
Tinored, and some subnetworks. In return, CIGBnet is their international
UUCP gateway. The tourism network also exchanges traffic with
RENACYT. RENACYT currently covers Ciudad Santiago de Cuba, Havana,
and Matanzas, and it plans to expand to Camagüey and Las Villas
The tourism network connects tourist hotels, providing credit
card verification, financial transactions, and reservation support,
but I have been unable to determine details. I assume such connectivity
is expensive and that it could be carried more economically over
an IP network if one were available. Furthermore, modern client-server
tools such HTTP servers would seem to be more powerful both for
marketing and reservations and for secure transaction and credit
For perspective, Table 3, below, shows traffic figures and user
estimates for Caribbean networks (Pimienta). The estimates are
quite conservative; they are challenged by Hahn, who estimates
more than 2,600 registered Caribbean users.4
Table 3: Caribbean Internet Traffic
By either estimate, Cuban networks are significant. Without counting
InfoMed, international Cuban traffic accounts for 37.7 percent
of the rest of the Caribbean. The Cuban active user counts in
Table 1 total 3,386, and that table is incomplete. (I would expect
internal Cuban traffic to be much higher than other Caribbean
nations' internal traffic). So, in spite of the current economic
blockade and crisis, Cuba is a major Caribbean networking nation.5
Cuba will eventually have IP connectivity. The only questions
are when and how it will be administered. Cuban networking began
at CENIAI, which has consistently worked toward international
IP connectivity. In February 1995, CENIAI received permission
from the Ministry of Science and Technology to establish an IP
link for the academic community, and there is a proposal pending,
but it has not been funded (Martínez, 1993, 1995). CENIAI and
CIGBnet have both been using IP and IP-based servers internally
for some time, in addition to sending people abroad for training.
More important, Cuba has developed a sizable user community, with
networking skills and applications. The community has grown out
of both a long-standing commitment to education throughout the
society and major research, development, and therapy programs
in biotechnology and medicine. Cuba has the expertise to operate
an international IP link, and permission has been granted by the
government. Even though Cuba is missing funding and a working
agreement or plan for cooperation between the various networks,
these will be achieved eventually.
1. The APC was founded in 1989 to coordinate the operation and
development of networks devoted to peace, ecology, human rights,
and other so-called progressive causes. As of August 1995, the
APC has 18 member networks serving more than 31,000 activists,
educators, nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations in 133
countries. The APC also exchanges e-mail and selected conferences
with 40 partner networks worldwide, many of which are expected
to become full APC members in the future. In September 1995, the
APC was granted Consultative Status, Category 1, with the Economic
and Social Council of the United Nations. This means the APC can
have a permanent representative at the UN, and it is entitled
to submit written statements to the council, to be granted hearings,
and to propose agenda items for consideration by the council and
its subsidiary bodies.
2. With the Soviet collapse, Cuba lost about $4 billion$5 billion
in aid and subsidies, as well as its key trading partners. Foreign
trade currently is approximately 25 percent of the 1989 level,
and gross domestic product is 50 percent. The stringent demands
of this special period have made it impossible to renovate or
even maintain Cuba's telephone infrastructure.
3. ETECSA was created by privatizing the phone company. It is
owned by the Cuban government (51 percent), Grupo Domos of Mexico
(37 percent), and STET of Italy (12 percent). The internal infrastructure
is obsolete and deteriorating rapidly, but investment has been
4. The discrepancy between Pimienta and Hahn reflects inconsistency
in the definition of user. In e-mail follow-ups, Pimienta points
out that many of the CUnet accounts are relatively inactive; Hahn
counters that Pimienta's figures are estimates based on traffic
volumes and assumptions of traffic per user, whereas his are actual
numbers of accounts. Furthermore, many users may share a single
account. Both are correct. Many users make infrequent use of the
Net because of cost, difficulty using the system, culture, and
so forth. Such differences are not idle speculation. Network statistics
are similar to census data, telephony statistics of the ITU, or
economic statistics, and they are used to both set policy and
allocate resources. Of course they are not the entire picture,
and we also need studies of the actual impact that networks are
having on the intellectual and economic life of nations.
5. Readers interested in online discussion of Caribbean networking
can join the list "caribuser" by sending a message saying "subscribe"
to caribuser-request@ dhvx20.csudh.edu.
Armas, Carlos, "Cuba," in the Eye on Developing Nations section,
OnTheInternet, pp. 3839, July/August 1995.
Fullan, Riff, firstname.lastname@example.org, personal communication.
Hahn, Saul, "Caribbean Networking Infrastructure," gopher: //rip.psg.com/1m/networks/connect/caribbean, October 2, 1995.
Martínez, Jesús, "Profile of the Cuban Scientific Network Project,"
e-mail document, February 1995.
Martínez, Jesús Alfonso, "Desarrollo de la Iniciativa Cubana Red
CENIAI del al Academia de Siencias de Cuba," III Foro de Redes
Académicas de la América Latina y el Caribe, Caracas, Venezuela,
October 1722, 1993.
Pimienta, Daniel, "Daniel Pimienta on Caribbean Networking," gopher://rip.psg.com/1m/networks/connect/caribbean, June 12, 1995.
Press, L., "Technetronic Education: Answers on the Cultural Horizon,"
Communications of the ACM, May 1993, Vol. 36, No. 5, pp. 1722.
Press, L., and J. Snyder, "A Look at Cuban Networks," Matrix News, 2(6), Matrix Information and Directory Services, Austin, Texas