Japan and Cuba Play Catch-Up

Think your connection is slow? Be grateful you even have one.

As part of a plan to catch up to the U.S. in Internet technology, the Japanese government is now inviting 30,000 foreign experts to work in Japan. I-Mode, a technology from Japans Docomo, is the envy of just about every country on Earth for wireless Internet access. Ironically, though, Japan finds itself in just about the opposite position when it comes to Net access over plain old telephone system lines. Only about a third of Japanese homes are hooked up to the Net, in contrast with 50 percent in the U.S.

Docomos parent company, NTT, has been picking up the bulk of the blame. NTT once held a monopoly on all domestic phone calls in Japan, and still controls 99 percent of all phone lines there. So Web surfing in Japan does not come cheap. A three-minute call over local lines runs about 9 yen, or 7 cents.

Meanwhile, in our own hemisphere, the Cuban government also is launching an Internet catch-up initiative. Cuba today has five ISPs and 60,000 e-mail accounts. Typically, though, access is limited to government-operated intranets. Cubans who cant connect via employers, schools or computer clubs often resort to the black market, where illegal access is for sale at $30 to $60 per month.

Cuba plans to build better Net connections, doubling the number of computer clubs to 300, and installing a fiber-optic backbone by 2005. Great weather, cheap cigars and no way to tell anyone.