HAVANA – In Cuba, there are an estimated 20,000 members of an underground, offline network that is about to go extinct if the Cuban government doesn't compromise with its users.
If you're in Havana, you'll see the antennas all over the capital city.
They prop up point-to-point wireless bridges or Nanos, as they're called on the island. There are one of the many elements that make up the complicated underground offline network called SNET. The name comes from the combination of the words ‘street’ and ‘network.’
A YouTube video gives you a sense of the how the system works using Nano station kits, Wi-Fi repeaters and networks cables that are strung from house to house in order to bring the network into Cuban living rooms.
"It's our phenomenon," said Ernesto De Armas, a 24-year-old user, who adds the independent network has been around for more than decade and its creation is directly linked to the lack of access to free or affordable internet in Cuba.
It is mainly used by gamers, who have figured out a way to play multi-player video games in an offline mode.
"It was created out of a need to play," De Armas said.
Like most things in Cuban society, Cubans have been able to hack into the game so they can play off line. The network is not limited to games and includes programming forums, chats and off-line information sites.
To be users, members must follow these simple rules: no pornography, discussion of drugs, politics or religion.
SNET has built a powerful sense of ownership, De Armas said in an interview with Local 10 News.
That sense of ownership is being threatened after Cuba's Ministry of Communication approved two new laws users argue are designed to end SNET.
"We weren't legal or illegal. We were in limbo," De Armas said.
Users say the new regulations which have already taken effect are designed to tear down their network because in part they regulate the equipment that makes it possible to create such a massive network.
After attempts at compromising with the Communications Ministry failed, a group of SNET users and administrators organized and met outside the Communications government building this past weekend.
De Armas attended the impromptu gathering and posted tweets reporting what was happening. Since then, he has remained vocal about the new regulations.
By way of state run media, the government has said the new regulations want to optimize the radio spectrum and avoid saturation, interference or degradation in public services as well as prevent harmful effects of radiation.
Days later, there is still no compromise.
Ayer a las 11:45pm +- vino la seguridad del estado a mi casa. Me llevaron en una patrulla. Me amenazaron, me acusaron falsamente de cosas, incluso me amenazaron con la cárcel. Estoy muy triste de que esto suceda solo por defender SNET en mi país. Yo no hago daño a nadie...😢😢 pic.twitter.com/cBJGlBdfGz— Ernesto De Armas (@RealErnesto95) August 15, 2019
And on Wednesday night, two days after De Armas granted Local 10 News an interview, he took to Twitter to report Cuban state security had detained, questioned and threatened him with jail time if he would incite any activities.
Despite the threats, he is hopeful the problem will be resolved by way of dialogue and compromise.