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Cuban artist offers free wifi to Havana locals, with backing from Google

Kcho’s sculpture studio has been equipped with laptops, cell phones and virtual-reality goggles and is open to the public from 7am to midnight

by Dan Duray  |  23 March 2016
Cuban artist offers free wifi to Havana locals, with backing from Google
People use a free Wi-Fi network at Kcho's studio, in Havana, Cuba. Photo: AP/Desmond Boylan
Google will partner with the Cuban sculptor Alexis Leiva Machado, known as Kcho, to bring free high-speed wifi to his studio, as part of the company’s broader efforts improve internet access in the country. The announcement was made during President Barack Obama’s visit to Havana.

Kcho has offered free wifi to the public from his studio since 2013. Internet access in Cuba is generally rare, expensive and controlled by the government, doled out in one-hour increments by the state-run phone company for $2. It is not unusual to see a group of people Skyping on a seemingly random sidewalk because they happen to catch a wifi signal.

In a tour of Kcho’s studio, the Associated Press said Google has “built a studio equipped with dozens of laptops, cellphones and virtual-reality goggles”. The space will be open five days a week, from 7am to midnight, for as many as 40 people at a time.

Kcho, whose work often involves boat themes, is politically active in the Communist government and is a representative of the National Assembly of Cuba. He is also extremely close with the Castro brothers, and recently accompanied Raúl Castro to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis.

“I’ve always worried that people have what they need, just like the revolution did, and so I’m trying to give people a place to grow spiritually,” Kcho said of his internet programme in 2013, in an interview with NPR. “A library, an art studio—all those things are important.”

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