Communication agents will sell telephone and Internet time

ETECSA is taking applications for communication agents who will sell and reload prepaid phone and Internet access cards, make calls and collect bills.

The agents will work on commission and charge the same prices as ETECSA. They will also pay taxes. Will this eliminate the black market for resale of Internet access?

This is reminiscent of Grameenphone's Village Phone agents in Bangladesh. In 1997, Grameen Bank began making making micro-finance loans to agents in rural villages who would purchase cell phones and sell calling time. They now have 210,000 phone agents and have also established "hut spots" -- village Internet access and services offices.

Quick update on Alan Gross on the fourth anniversary of his imprisonment

Alan Gross’ wife plans a protest at the White House on December 3 -- hoping to persuade President Obama to move to exchange Gross for the "Cuban Five."

I learned of this planned protest from a press release issued by JTA, a Jewish news agency. JTA has published 23 releases on Gross since he was arrested -- providing a timeline for the case.

I've also published several more detailed posts on this blog.

Update 12/2/2013

What do Barbara Boxer and Ted Cruz agree on? That Alan Gross should be freed.

On the fourth anniversary of his imprisonment in Cuba, former U.S. government contractor Alan Gross wrote a letter to President Obama, asking him to personally intervene in his case.

That letter, two others, signed by 14 and 66 US Senators are reproduced along with an article on the case in the Washington Post.

Update 2/10/2014

Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota just returned from a three day trip to Cuba to talk about agricultural trade. Heitkamp, who favors a change in our relationship to Cuba, met with Alan Gross and said that his "incarceration has really led to a point of difficulty in our continuing effort to normalize relations."

Material para enseñar a los niños a programar y usar las computadoras

Un colega y yo estamos preparando una colección de materiales didácticos en español dirigida a los jóvenes. Nos estamos centrando en tres programas - Tuxpaint, Scratch y FrontlineSMS.

Tuxpaint es un programa de dibujo dirigido a los niños de escuela primaria - que tiene todo tipo de herramientas, como sellos y transformaciones, que permiten de forma rápida hacer dibujos complejos con sonidos atractivos. Los niños pequeños lo aprenden con facilidad lo que les permite desarrollar las habilidades para navegar por el sistema operativo y el sistema de archivos - para construir un modelo mental de su equipo.

Scratch es un entorno de programación de arrastrar y soltar dirigido a los niños mayores. Se utiliza para crear programas gráficos que manipulan los objetos que representan los coches, pelotas, personas, etc. Los niños son inmediatamente capaces de crear programas sencillos, dirigidos por eventos, y pueden aprender cada vez más complejos programas - incluyendo muchos conceptos de programación como iteración, sentencias condicionales, tipos de datos, etc. Si tienen acceso a la Internet, también pueden compartir sus programas y colaborar con una comunidad mundial que ha compartido más de 4 millones de proyectos.

FrontlineSMS permite configurar un servidor de lista de mensajes SMS para cualquier comunidad de interés común, con independencia de lo que el interés es. Los mensajes se archivan en el servidor y se envían a los miembros de la comunidad. Esto ilustra la idea de un servicio Web y capacita a los jóvenes (o las personas mayores) para establecer comunidades de usuarios en las áreas de su interés y experiencia.

El material didáctico está en línea y usted puede usarlo para enseñarle a sus niños o uso personal. Si lo usa, o si tiene alguna sugerencia por favor háganoslo saber. Si su experiencia ha sido satisfactoria informe a otros usuarios de su existencia.

Electronic commerce in Cuba

A recent Juventud Rebelde post explains what electronic commerce is and gives a few examples of Cuban electronic commerce.

The good news is that there is a spark of interest in the topic.

The sad news is that they feel the need to explain "electronic commerce."

More sad news -- Carlos Lage (and others) pointed out the opportunity cost of restricting the Internet shortly after Cuba connected. In 1997 he said:
One telex can cost twelve dollars [whereas] the same message costs 75 cents in the form of a fax and 3 cents via the Internet ... in spite of our blockaded circumstances, we are in a relatively good position [to face the challenges of such scientific and technological changes], due to the educational and scientific work developed by the revolution.

CNN Video of Cuban Internet access centers

A short CNN news video covers one of the new Internet access centers in Havana (2m 19s).

Launching our spectrum database to help users dynamically access TV white space spectrum

Posted by Alan Norman, Access Principal

Spectrum is an essential resource to fuel the Internet's future—it can power improved broadband access and spark innovation in wireless technology. And, as with any important resource, effective management can help make sure we're making the most of what's available. Both policy and technology have a role to play in making sure that spectrum is managed, allocated, and shared in ways that can help the Internet grow.

Google's Spectrum Database is one such technology, developed to enable dynamic sharing of TV white space spectrum; this allows parties to use spectrum when they need it, and make it available to other users when they don't. In July 2013, we were certified by the FCC to operate the database for commercial use. Since then, early testers have provided feedback and insights on future innovations. Testers included GE Industrial Communications, which used the database to explore how it could enable new communication options for its Industrial Internet products.

Now, we're launching a developer API for the database that enables general exploration for any user, as well as a commercial account option for device manufacturers. The commercial account allows equipment makers to register their devices with our database in order to operate on available TV white space.

Adaptrum is the first device manufacturer to be certified to use our Spectrum Database, and is already using the tool in the field for a white space deployment, providing public Wi-Fi on the campus of West Virginia University (WVU). The white space network, which is managed by Air.U co-founder Declaration Networks, uses Adaptrum's equipment integrated with our Spectrum Database. The collaboration shows how dynamic spectrum sharing can help deliver broadband coverage and capacity to more rural areas.

We hope that the database continues to support new opportunities like the WVU white space network. With forward-looking policy as well technology advances, we can further encourage dynamic spectrum sharing and the wireless innovation that it supports.

Please contact GE Industrial Communications, Air.U, or Adaptrum for more information on their work.

Government requests for user information double over three years

Cross-posted with the Official Google Blog

posted by Richard Salgado, Legal Director, Law Enforcement and Information Security

In a year in which government surveillance has dominated the headlines, today we're updating our Transparency Report for the eighth time. Since we began sharing these figures with you in 2010, requests from governments for user information have increased by more than 100 percent. This comes as usage of our services continues to grow, but also as more governments have made requests than ever before. And these numbers only include the requests we're allowed to publish.

Over the past three years, we've continued to add more details to the report, and we're doing so again today. We're including additional information about legal process for U.S. criminal requests: breaking out emergency disclosures, wiretap orders, pen register orders and other court orders.

We want to go even further. We believe it's your right to know what kinds of requests and how many each government is making of us and other companies. However, the U.S. Department of Justice contends that U.S. law does not allow us to share information about some national security requests that we might receive. Specifically, the U.S. government argues that we cannot share information about the requests we receive (if any) under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But you deserve to know.

Earlier this year, we brought a federal case to assert that we do indeed have the right to shine more light on the FISA process. In addition, we recently wrote a letter of support for two pieces of legislation currently proposed in the U.S. Congress. And we're asking governments around the world to uphold international legal agreements that respect the laws of different countries and guarantee standards for due process are met.

Our promise to you is to continue to make this report robust, to defend your information from overly broad government requests, and to push for greater transparency around the world.

We strongly believe that the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) must be updated in this Congress, and we urge Congress to expeditiously enact a bright-line, warrant-for-content rule. Governmental entities should be required to obtain a warrant—issued based on a showing of probable cause—before requiring companies like Google to disclose the content of users' electronic communications.

Testifying before the U.S. Senate on transparency legislation

Posted by Pablo Chavez, Director, Public Policy and Government Affairs

This morning, Richard Salgado, Director of Law Enforcement and Information Security, will testify before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law on the Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013.

We commend Senators Franken and Heller for introducing this bill, which would allow Internet service providers to disclose basic statistics about requests we receive from law enforcement for users’ information in the course of a national security investigation. The current lack of transparency about government surveillance programs undermines trust, economic growth and security, and the promise of the Internet as a platform for openness.

More transparency can help fix that. Since 2010, our Transparency Report has shed light on requests for user data that we receive from the government. We strive to surface new and useful data with every update. Richard’s testimony details our efforts to be allowed to disclose statistics about FISA requests that we may receive, including our motion before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Transparency is crucial, but it is only one step among many needed. As we wrote to Congress two weeks ago, it is clear that the U.S. government and other governments must examine broader reforms to government surveillance.

You can read Richard’s written testimony and watch the webcast of the hearing starting at 10:00 AM Eastern.

Ilegal satellite Internet service in Cuba

Alan Gross is in prison for bringing personal satellite equipment into Cuba and a plot to smuggle dishes in disquised as surfing equipment was foiled, but it seems that a clandestine business operating out of Miami has succeded where they failed.

According to articles in the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, the anonymous businessman has sold at least 35 personal satellite systems in Cuba -- for Internet access and low-cost international calls.

The anonymous business man runs a Web page which redirects to a video showing images of dishes, which are presumably in Cuba:

The video, which was uploaded on July 26, 2009 has the following description:
The articles also quote Ricardo Arevalo, general manager of Exede, a company that leases satellite internet equipment, as saying the "number of such systems in Cuba is closer to 300."

These systems are not cheap by Cuban standards -- getting the equipment in and installed costs between $3,500-$4.200, paid in advance in Miami. The bills are generally paid for by families members who live in the US and it seems that the motivation is purely business -- cheap phone calls and Internet access -- not political.

These reports leave me a bit skeptical -- it seems it would be too easy to entrap customers -- but, if these reports are for real, Alan Gross and USAID could have saved a lot of the taxpayer's money and Gross could be a free man.

Mobile expansion

In June, ETECSA predicted that there would be two million mobile subscribers by the end of the year. One step in that direction was the recent expansion of mobile coverage in Las Tunas, where they expect over 50,000 mobile phones by the end of this year and will add more base stations in 2014. Eighty percent of the province now has mobile coverage.

Cuba has historically invested more outside of the capital than most developing nations, and It is good to see resources being devoted to locations in the provinces, but, as far as I know, there is no support for smart phones -- is that the case?

Resources for young, Spanish speaking nerds and their teachers

A colleague and I are putting together a collection of Spanish language teaching material aimed at young people. We are focusing on three programs -- Tuxpaint, Scratch and FrontlineSMS.
  • Tuxpaint is a drawing program aimed at grade school kids -- it has all sorts of tools like stamps and transformations that let them quickly draw complex pictures. It also makes neat sound effects as they draw. Little kids learn it easily, and in doing so, they develop dexterity and learn to navigate the operating system and file system -- to build a mental model of their computer.
  • Scratch is a drag-and-drop programming environment aimed at junior high and older kids. It is used to create graphical programs which manipulate objects representing cars, balls, people, etc. Kids are able to create simple, event-driven programs immediately, and can move on to increasingly complex programs -- introducing many programming concepts like iteration, conditional statements, data types, etc. If they have Internet access, they can also share their programs and collaborate with a worldwide community that has shared over 4 million projects.
  • FrontlineSMS allows one to set up an SMS message list server for any community of common interest, regardless of what that interest is. Messages are archived on the server and forwarded to community members. This illustrates the idea of a Web service and empowers youth (or older people) to establish user communities in areas of their interest and expertise.
The teaching material is online and you are free to use it to teach kids or to learn on your own. If you use it or have suggestions for additions, improvements or others who would like to use it, please let us know. Also let other people know.

Eliécer Ávila and Operation Truth -- who is on the payroll?

Freedom House issues an annual report on freedom on the Internet. This year they rated 60 nations and Iran was the only nation rated as less free than Cuba.

One of the factors they consider in their ranking is the use of pro-government commentators to manipulate online discussions. We have learned of the extent of that activity from Eliécer Ávila.

In 2007 Ávila was a student at the prestigious University of Computer Sciences of Cuba (UCI), where he asked some embarrassing questions of Ricardo Alarcón, then President of the Cuban National Assembly. Ávila asked about travel and hotel restrictions, the economy, government transparency and the Internet.

(You can see video of the exchange between Ávila and Alarcón here. Ávila's remarks on the Internet begin at the 15:25 point).

While that video received considerable attention at the time, it is not as intersting to me as a conversation this year between Ávila and Yoani Sánchez. (An English language transcript is available here).

Ávila describes Operation Truth, which he worked on while a student at UCI. He outlines the scope and organization of the project -- a thousand students are active in social networks, where they write posts favoring the government and work as "trolls," disrupting discussion and attacking those who question the government.

This leads me to be a little paranoid -- wondering who might be on the Operation Truth payroll. One person who comes to mind is Walter Lippmann, who founded and moderates CubaNews, a Yahoo Group.

When I started this blog, I discovered CubaNews and joined the group. I posted a few things, including a link to a report I had written on the state of the Internet in Cuba. Walter commented on my posts -- arguing and changing the subject -- like a troll. Nevertheless, when I posted something on this blog, I also sent a link to the CubaNews group.

Those links also generated rambling disagreement from Walter, and finally, he stopped sharing my submissions. For a while, he posted trollish comments on my posts on this blog, but, after I replied pointing out that I posted his comments, while he censored me, he stopped. I have no way of knowing whether Walter is subsidized by the Cuban Government or anyone else, but his censorship and argument tactics make me wonder.

Do you know of others who might be Operation Truth trolls?

Update 10/0/2013

In an attempt to identify government-connected bloggers, dissident brothers, Luis Enrique and José Daniel Ferrer planted a fake story in a phone conversation that they assumed would be tapped. Read about it here. While it is possible that those who published or knew about the fake news could have heard it from others, it is clear that the brother's phone call was monitored.