Viva Cuban Ringtones

March 29, 2008

Raul Castro gets air

Good things come to those who wait? Raul Castro, the 76 year old President of Cuba, announced ordinary citizens can now have cell phones, previously only available to government and corporate honchos. Some think Raul is trying to distract his people from more pressing issues, like finding food. I think the real reason is that his bruh Fidel, at 81, is just too tired to carry on a decent text anymore, heY! Whatever, what a world. Lemme know if anybody wants to buy my phone, and the bill that it comes with.

Q&A on Cuban Cell Phone Service

HAVANA  — Cell phone service will soon be widely available to Cubans for the first time. Some questions and answers:

Q. What kind of service will be provided?

A. Details will be announced in the coming days, but it is likely to be the same service now available to foreigners and elite Cubans, which supports long distance national and international calls, and text messaging. It likely won’t include e-mail and other smart-phone services. Camera phones available to everyday Cubans also won’t be able to transmit images directly.

Q. So what’s really new here?

A. Until now, only Cubans who work for foreign companies or have top government positions have been able to get legal contracts to use cell phones. A growing number of Cubans have managed to get around this by using other people’s contracts or phones left behind by visiting friends or relatives from other countries, and the government hasn’t stopped them. Now Cuba says it will legalize cell phone use and make it much more accessible.

Q. Why now?

A. Raul Castro said when he became president last month that he would quickly lift some prohibitions to create new government income. Some also believe that allowing Cubans to have modern gadgets such as cell phones, personal computers and microwave ovens may dissuade them from demanding deeper changes in the state-controlled economy.

Q. Who will provide the service?

A. Cuba’s state-controlled telecommunications monopoly, a joint venture between the government and Telecom Italia.

Q. How much will it cost?

A. Probably so much that most Cubans can’t afford it. Foreigners and companies currently pay $120 to activate service and 60 cents a minute for local calls.

Q. What about international calls?

A. Cuba already allows international cell phone calls at a steep cost. Daytime rates are $2.70 a minute to the United States, $2.45 to Mexico and $5.45 to almost everywhere else. A 10-minute call to Miami runs $33, more than the average government worker earns in a month.

Q: How will Cubans come up with that money?

A: Likely users include Cubans who get hard currency from relatives or friends living abroad, or who earn much more than most workers, either through legally licensed small businesses or black market enterprises.

Q. How good is the service?

A. A lot better than it was a few years ago, before Telecom Italia invested heavily in Cuba’s fiber optic cable network and upgraded to the world’s leading cell phone technology. Cuba’s phone monopoly now believes it can handle heavier traffic — and make money off of it.

Q. What kind of phones will be available?

A. The phone monopoly’s cell division, Cubacel, already provides prepaid service and sells mobile phones with cameras for as much as $250. It also sells basic models of Nokia and Motorola phones, now considered obsolete in many other countries, for about $90 each.

Q. What about smart phone capabilities?

A. There are no plans to sell smart phones such as Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry, Palm Inc.’ Treo, or Apple’s new iPhones. Cubacel currently offers smart phone services, such as e-mail, to a very limited number of firms with local cell contracts. That technology can now be used by visitors with smart phones that were activated through service contracts from telecommunications firms in other countries that have operating agreements with Cubacel.

Q. How will having a cell phone help everyday Cubans?

A. Cubans likely will use cell phones the same way people in other countries do, to stay in contact with their families and acquaintances when out of their home or office, especially in a place where public phones are scarce and often don’t work. Cell phones will make it easier to make and keep appointments, rather than having to return home simply to change a meeting time. Cubans who already have cell phones often give them to their teenagers for security when they go out in the evenings.

~ anemi

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