Above: A female tourist is video conferencing on a tablet computer while seated in a small Internet lounge at the Hotel Palco in Havana on May 2, 2016. PHOTO: GERARD BEST
By Gerard Best
From May 2 to 6, some 700 technology experts and professionals from across the region gather in western Havana for the annual meeting of the Internet Registry for Latin America and the Caribbean (LACNIC).
LACNIC is one of five organisations worldwide responsible for managing the world’s Internet numbering resources.
This week’s meeting, called LACNIC 25, is one of the most important gatherings of the regional Internet community. Sessions will cover a broad range of topics, including cybersecurity, IPv6 deployment, regional interconnection, and several technical training workshops.
If the meeting is significant, its venue is all the more strategic. And it is not the first time that LACNIC chose to fly to Havana for its meetings. In 2003, the city hosted LACNIC 5. The decision to return to the Cuban capital coincides with a season of unprecedented change that goes beyond the country’s nascent telecommunications sector. The Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union (ITU) ranks Cuba lowest in the Americas in telecommunications development. But Cuban officials have cited factors outside of the telecommunications sector, such as the U.S. economic embargo and political aggression, as reasons for its stunted development.
Until 2012, most Internet users on the Caribbean’s largest island had only had limited Internet connectivity via satellite. In early 2013, the Cuban government opened several cybercafes, which have become the primary point of access to the Internet for local users. The Cuban public mostly has State-controlled Internet access in schools and workplaces.
LACNIC 25 is being hosted jointly with the Cuban telecommunications company, ETECSA.
“It’s really great to be hosting everyone right here in Havana!” said Jorge Villa, manager of the national university network at the Cuban Ministry of Higher Education, on the opening day of the weeklong meeting at the downtown Havana Convention Centre.
Villa was on hand at LACNIC 23 in Lima, Peru, when LACNIC Executive Director Oscar Robles made the official announcement of the venue for LACNIC 25. The news was greeted with loud applause. This week, observers continue to hope that the regional meeting signals continued development of a robust and open Internet in Cuba.