“A Conectifai user was engaging in political behavior online and within five minutes, the police were on site. They trace it back to whoever is managing the network, so that specific dealer was sentenced to three years — one in prison and two under house arrest.”
Conectifai’s competitive advantage — the only reason for its existence — is that it’s cheaper for the consumer. Luis, like most Conectifai dealers, charges anywhere between $1–4 CUC for 7+ hours of internet use, depending on the regularity of the customer.
“Conectifai just gives me more time. Why would I pay Etecsa 0.70 CUC for one hour when I can get two or three hours from Conectifai? Conectifai makes it easier for us — the people who just want to chat with our friends and family.” says Conectifai consumer Andrés, an elderly man who only uses the internet to video chat with his wife in Mexico.
“People here are grateful for Conectifai,” says Luis. “All of my users live around here. They’re happy because I’m offering convenience. For 1 CUC you can stay connected all day — for just 1 CUC!”
While there is no way to know the official number (Luis, for example, estimates there are about 1,000 Conectifai points in all of Havana), you can sit down with a dealer in order to get a visual sense of the network — a dealer can count how many people in the park are using their network as opposed to Etecsa’s.
Since Etecsa does not release connectivity statistics, a better estimate of scale comes directly from Connectify:
- In just the first semester of 2019, there were 20,000 computers running the Connectify software in Cuba
- A blog post in 2017 commented that, in that year, “there were some 50,000 new installations of the software”
The dealer always knows who is on his network because, in order to protect the security and effectively monetize the service, the dealer always has to enter in the network password for the user. The dealer also changes the password every 6–12 hours in order to ensure that people aren’t reconnecting the following day, for example, without paying. The password is never given out.
This is one of the risks at play. On the off-chance that the police decide to crack down on this illegal activity, they’d have to catch the Conectifai dealer in the moment that he exchanges the cellphone and cash with the customer. It is a three-strike system. The first and second time a dealer is caught, they’re fined 1,500 and 3,500 CUP ($60 and $140 USD), respectively. The third time, they face a prison sentence of up to three years.
“It’s risky and you have to be careful. If a police officer comes and sits here for an extended period of time, I’ll just go home. But that’s rare.” As a rule, he says, it’s easy to have the police under control. “Plus, I know all the police. Some of them are even my friends at this point. I’ve never gotten officially fined, but I pay bribes pretty regularly. Most of us have to bribe — $20 CUC, even $50 CUC sometimes.”
But far riskier are the factors outside the dealer’s control. Luis explains that dealers generally don’t have “rules” for their Conectifai location, but that consumers should know better than to do anything political online.
“The internet here isn’t private at all. If I’m sitting around googling ‘Down with Fidel’ and other anti-Revolution shit, I’m going to get caught within two seconds. If you want to know what the government really cares about, it’s not us, the Conectifai dealers — it’s what people are consuming on the Web.”
The police do crack down. “I saw it happen at a site near Capitolio a couple years ago,” remembers Luis. “A Conectifai user was engaging in political behavior online and within five minutes, the police were on site. They trace it back to whoever is managing the network, so that specific dealer was sentenced to three years — one in prison and two under house arrest.”
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