Anywhere, anytime connectivity but not in Cuba

Have you ever wished to be disconnected totally from the Internet world we currently live in?

If you do may I suggest you take a trip to Cuba? For my American friends and readers I understand this maybe problematic. For many Canadians, Cuba is like a second home. Nearly every patron at my resort was from some part of Canada. I’ve been to Cuba three times and last week I took my whole family down for the March Break vacation. No, this is not a travel blog. I’m not going to get into how great the beaches are and how nice the people of Cuba are. By the way both are true. What I would like to inform you of is that if you are looking to connect via the World Wide Web for email, the Internet for some cyber-surfing, or some kind of VPN to check something at work, or even make a simple cell-phone call to tell a loved-one back home that you arrived safely well you can forget it. If you try it will lead to the purest form of frustration you will ever experience. Cuba has wireless and wired communications in the country. But trying to connect to that network isn’t going to happen. As for the cloud;  you wont even see one in the sky.

The Cuban authorities have called the Internet “the great disease of 21st century” due to 'counter-revolutionary' information being available on a number of Web sites, some of which are official news sites, according to

Needless to say the Internet is highly controlled and emails are heavily monitored. Can you imagine having that job?

I wasn’t in Cuba to spend time online, but on occasion I like to catch up on email and see how the CDN Now newsletter is doing. While I was in Cuba I completely missed Dell acquiring SonicWall. I learned of the deal upon my arrival back in Toronto. I would like to give you a sense of how Cubans use computers and the Web. This is just from my vantage point as a tourist.

My resort had an Internet room where guests could go online anytime of the day. This room had only three hardwired PCs with big fat CRT monitors. The room was always occupied by guests. Some even lined up. Most of time these people were frustrated trying to get online; many times people pounded their fists onto the desk in frustration. One late night I managed to get on one of the PCs. As I clicked on the screen it went dark. I shook the mouse and the screen reappeared. I clicked again on the screen and it went dark. I tried three times and each time I got the same result. I decided to quit while I was ahead.

Making cell phone calls out is doable. The International prefix for Cuba is 119, but the front desk gave me a blizzard of nines and ones and for the first few times I dialed 911 knowing all along it was incorrect.

Cuba’s only carrier is the state-run Cubacel and my Blackberry quickly picked up its signal; however, I did not get any calls, texts or emails. Even now a seven day block of emails do not appear on my smartphone. The only WiFi was at the airport in Veradero. If you are looking for WiFi hot spots you will not find them in Cuba.

The resort, a four-star place in case you were wondering, instructs its patrons to use phone booths. You have to see these places. They are straight out of 1940s film noir movie starring Humphrey Bogart. Oh and there is a person inside monitoring your call. The people of Cuba were given the right to buy computers in 2007 and the functionality of some of the software is pretty rudimentary. For example, the resort featured seven ala carte restaurants. Each guest had to book their spot for these restaurants. Since I've been to the island a few times I knew I had to make this my first priority or my family would be stuck eating buffet food for the entire trip. So my first morning I lined up with many other Canadians to get the coveted spots in these restaurants. I spent two hours and 45 minutes waiting before I got to see the woman manning the computer reservation system. I kid you not  on this; the reservation system looked as if it was made in either Lotus 1-2-3 or an early 90s version of Excel. Mind you we did get our reservations. Each restaurant we chose had our name on the list. Judging from other guests there were no issues with overbooking or missed reservations.

What I really enjoyed (not) was all the complaining people did to the Cubans. One person in this line up told the person making reservations that the resort should host an online reservation system so that guests could pre-book the restaurants before they left Canada similar to the way airlines allow you to choose a seat before you board the plane. The look of complete disinterest on the face of this woman after hearing this rant was just precious.

The resort had its own medical clinic with a doctor and a nurse. To my surprise this clinic did not have a PC. The doctor wrote down a prescription for my wife who had a minor ailment. We had to pay for this with Cuba Convertible Pesos. The doctor handwrote the invoice and said the medicine would be delivered to our room. I thought to myself how can that happen if they did not use a computer with an Internet connection for submitting the order? Well, my wife got her medicine in under 30 minutes. No word of lie there. The clinic was also pristine. Cuba’s healthcare is known to be  world class. Cuba provides a doctor for every 170 residents for example and that’s the second highest doctor-to-patient ratio in the world. The doctor also provided my wife with a receipt for insurance purposes before we left for Toronto.

But this did not stop one guest from explaining how healthcare is done in Canada to the doctor and nurse on staff. He went on-and-on with his suggestion on improving the healthcare process in this Cuban resort. It took all I had to hold my laughter at this imbecile as both the doctor and the nurse humored him to no end.

Finally I would like to describe Cuba TV to you. Most of the channels were in Spanish but we did get CNN and CTV Montreal in English. My kids got a kick out of watching an English language channel called “The Hub”. But after three days The Hub channel mysteriously turned into the Cartoon Network in Spanish much to the disappointment of my kids. How this happened I have no clue.

After telling you all this I want to make it clear that we all survived and had a great time. Cubans are a very hospitable people. Things do not run as smooth as they do here in Canada and you have to wait in lines for stuff. But the trade off, in my opinion, is sunshine. They have year-round sunshine and we don’t. What it showed me was that you can live without being connected 24/7. Trust me when I say this, the people of Cuba are not living under a rock. They are informed enough.

I would have liked to have tweeted about my experience in Cuba, but since there was no access to Twitter I did not take it as a huge hardship.

Like most people after seven-days away you want to go home to your own bed. But for this short amount of time I did not lose out; nor did I miss not getting my emails or not knowing the hockey scores or the fact that Dell made a major acquisition that will impact the channel in Canada.

By not providing consistent wireless communications Cuba is a destination I would recommend to anyone interested in truly disconnecting from the Internet world.

Seven quick hit before I go. Friend of CDN Donna Wittman, the former Channel Chief of Cisco Canada, has returned to Toronto to become the Chief Marketing Officer of Tennis Canada based in Toronto. Wittmann, asCDN reported last year, was promoted to the position of vice president, worldwide partner led sales at Cisco Systems which meant she had to relocate to San Jose. CDN wishes Wittman all the best in her new job.

Symantec will also have a new channel chief of the Americas. Randy Cochran has left the organizations and will be replaced by former Gartner executive John Edlh.

Entrepreneur and Dragon’s Den member Arlene Dickinson and Ross Shafer, who had a short stint as Joan Rivers’ replacement on ill-fated Late Show on Fox, will be at the office* Canada 2012 event to be held in Toronto, April 23-24.

Play N Trade, the world's largest video game retail franchisor, has announced expansion to Canada through a merger with Canadian-basedDimensions Games Corp. Dimension Games will now be known as Play N Trade Canada, and all new Canadian stores will open with the Play N Trade signage, branding and innovative store layout. The full integration of both companies will take place over the next few months.

There is a new online gathering place for film discussion called I am a big movie fan and will be checking this one out. is the first social media and movie cataloging site for fans to share their thoughts on movies.

Ingram Micro will be having its Platform 2012 conference in Vancouver on March 21st and the beautiful River Rock Hotel and Casino.

Cables To Go will begin to offer a portfolio of digital signage solutions that support analog and digital distribution options with our TruLink products; A/V over Cat5, HDMI over Coax and High Speed HDMI over Active Optical Cabling (AOC).

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