By Natalia Lopez Moya (14 years old)
HAVANA TIMES – With its blue logo, air-conditioned offices and lack of competition in the national market, the Cuban telecommunications company (Etecsa) is experiencing a paradoxical situation: it is one of the few national entities that generates significant revenue , and, even she is therefore in a difficult financial situation.
“We tie pieces of cables together in order to solve the breaks”, complains José Ángel, a worker of the state monopoly, a company which is going through “the worst crisis since its creation”, an employee of the Plaza de la Revolución. the municipality tells 14ymedio. “Bosses still have privileges, but we don’t have the resources to serve customers.”
Jose Angel lists everything they lack. “There are no fixed lines to replace the old ones; we lack boxes to install inside homes; cable supply is also experiencing many problems, and even mobility is affected by the fuel shortage. The string of hardships stimulates the desertion of employees who once saw Etecsa as a “comfortable and privileged” workplace.
“It has changed a lot in recent years. Before, they sold us products at a preferential price, but this happens less and less,” explains an employee of the customer service office located in the Trade Market. “Here we are a little better because this place is very central and functions as a shop window, but in the other municipalities they can hardly even turn on the air conditioning.”
Every 15 days, Etecsa launches a mobile phone recharge promotion with additional bonuses to be paid from abroad. In 2019, Luilver Garces Briñas, a computer science graduate, estimated that on each of these occasions, the state monopoly could bring in more than $7 million abroad.
But most of this hard currency is not invested in telecommunications infrastructure. “About 90% of what Etecsa collects leaves the company in a big post marked “undefined”, specifies another employee linked to the accounting field, who prefers to remain anonymous. “With what remains, it is very difficult to maintain a quality service because we cannot make large investments.
The lack of liquidity is also beginning to weigh on Etecsa with its foreign investors. “In 2022, for the first time in 15 years, we were unable to fulfill our financial commitment to Nokia,” the Finnish company that worked on the island to set up part of the data service for Cellphones. “Investors are rushing us like crazy, but there is no money,” says the accountant.
“A point has been reached where a significant investment must be made to improve connectivity, because the submarine cable with Venezuela is not enough now”, adds the source, who assures that alternatives are being sought with the government of Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador. At the same time, he said: “Although negotiations are underway with Mexico for the possible laying of another cable, such a project will require investments, and the company is not in a position to carry them out for the moment.
“The problem is that cellphone usage has grown very rapidly, and we’ve gone from almost zero to almost 8 million cellphones that we have now. Customers are increasingly using data, uploading and downloading videos, making video calls and watching movies on the Internet, and all of this overloads the infrastructure we have, which does not expand and improve at the necessary speed,” he explains.
Bad news will continue to pile up for Monopoly. Etecsa has not updated the exchange rate between hard currencies and the Cuban peso, as state exchange offices have been doing since last August. The delay in the adoption of the new exchange rates causes many distortions, including for immigrants, who prefer to send euros or dollars in cash to their family in Cuba to pay for a recharge, instead of paying for the service from abroad. ‘foreign.
“A recharge from the United States costs between 20 and 23 dollars, and my relatives in Cuba receive 500 pesos of a fixed amount, plus the bonuses that Etecsa promotes,” explains Indira, an immigrant from the island who is at Miami for some time. month. “That same amount of money in Cuba is about 4,200 or 4,500 pesos, enough to put in eight packs of 500 pesos and still leave money for a smaller pack.”
“Every day that passes without Etecsa correcting this big difference, more and more people here realize it and prefer to send the top-up money directly to relatives,” explains the young woman.
At the customer service center, the phone rings and the operator says: “Hello, Marilu is taking care of you, how can I help you?” On the other side of the line, a subscriber complains in an annoying tone that his landline has been down for three months and that he has reported it five times. “I’ll put it on the list, but at the moment we don’t have supplies for the repairs,” said the employee.
Calls with similar complaints will continue throughout the day. In his daily report, Jose Angel receives calls to attend outages in his municipality. “I’ll see what happens, but if you need cables or boxes, I can’t do anything. I’m just going to complete the formality that we look into the problem,” he says, driving a van with a half-deleted Etecsa logo.
Translated by Regina Anavy for Translate Cuba
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