MIAMI – Salvi Pascual is a Cuban exile determined to ensure that his native land is no longer the least-connected to the Internet in the hemisphere, and to accomplish that he is ready to distribute up to $1,000 in prizes to those who develop relevant and effective solutions during a March 11-13 “hackathon” in Miami.
With only a 5 percent Internet access rate in Cuba, Pascual hopes that the Miami event will improve that statistic with tools permitting Internet access via email, “the biggest source of day-to-day connectivity that Cubans have.”
“In Cuba, the situation is precarious, in every sense,” Pascual told EFE, noting that only about 3 percent of people in the communist nation have a computer at home.
He adds that although the government has taken steps to broaden Internet access, Cuban laws need to “be more open,” allow the installation of more infrastructure and end the monopoly of state telecom company ETECSA.
While acknowledging that “censorship exists, and it’s quite restrictive,” Pascual prefers to stay aloof from the political debate and focus on projects directed at facilitating Internet access for Cubans, an effort he began three years ago when he launched the Apretaste! service.
A U.S. resident for five years, the programmer heads the platform that permits Internet access to the 25 percent of Cubans who can send and receive email.
Pascual says that the emails function like a search engine, an “intermediary,” so that users can access Internet content and make use of “public services, like Google Maps and Wikipedia.”
Apretaste! users write an email to an e-address and, in doing so, can utilize the service, whether it be to check the weather, examine maps, get language translations or use search words, after which, in less than a minute they receive in their inbox the results and content they have sought.
Pascual’s platform receives an average of 2,000 emails per day and allows Internet access to about 35,000 people in Cuba.