In early February, a massive ship belonging to French company Alcatel-Lucent arrived at port near Santiago de Cuba after setting sail from Venezuela. Cuban officials immediately touted its arrival as a "breach" of the United States' 50-year trade embargo. Its cargo? Not oil, food, or weapons. Like a modern-day Prometheus, the ocean liner brought nothing less than the Internet itself.
For years, Cuba has languished in a maddening digital limbo. Ninety-seven percent of Cubans don't have access to the web, and those who do chug along at AOL dial-up speeds slower than el comandante's tennis-ball-wheeled walker. Cuba's classic cars are cool. Classic Internet, not so much.
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Funded by Hugo Chávez's Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), the new fiber-optic cable will provide Internet 3,000 times faster than before. Eleven million Cubans will routinely surf the net for the first time, but we've been wrestling with the pros and cons of high-speed Internet for more than a decade. Here's what Cubans can expect.
Porn: With the Cuban government laying off 500,000 workers, it's a bad time to tap a portal to unlimited American-made pornography. What will happen to production quotas when habaneros start spending their days scouring the net for the latest BangBros episode? Cuba's leadership may be geriatric, but in Internet terms, the country is a horny teenager with a brand-new bottle of lotion and unlimited Wi-Fi. Expect a lot of wasted afternoons.
Protest: Cuban government censors are no slouches, but even they won't be able to stop the outpouring of criticism, mockery, and — yes — unrest that comes with high-speed Internet. "If the cable is activated, I'm sure some of those fibers will reach people like me," popular blogger Yoani Sánchez told GlobalPost in June. We give it two days before the island is inundated with fake Fidel Castro Twitter accounts.
Pop culture: Just imagine the flood of juvenile Internet humor that will begin pouring into Cuba this summer. As it is, the country is a veritable virgin landscape, free of obnoxiously viral cultural memes such as dancing babies, LOLcats, and Bill Simmons. Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Fidel gets rickrolled for the first time.