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Cuba MapCuba Networking Update

By Larry Press<lpress@isi.edu> 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 organizations.

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 such work.

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 4–8 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 provinces.

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 card processing.

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 promised.

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. 38–39, July/August 1995.

Fullan, Riff, intlinfo@web.apc.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 17–22, 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. 17–22.

Press, L., and J. Snyder, "A Look at Cuban Networks," Matrix News, 2(6), Matrix Information and Directory Services, Austin, Texas June 1992.

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