Cuban Kids Build Secret Internet

And a homegrown social
HAVANA (AP) — Cut off from the Internet, young Cubans have quietly linked thousands of computers into a hidden network that stretches miles across Havana, letting them chat with friends, play games and download hit movies in a mini-replica of the online world that most can’t access.

SNet started as a handful of connected users around 2001 and stayed that way for a decade. More than 9,000 computers have connected over the past five years, and about 2,000 users connect on an average day.

There is no obvious indication the U.S. or any other foreign government or group had anything to do with the creation of SNet, making it by far the most impressive example of Cuba’s homemade telecommunications engineering.

The network is a series of connected nodes, powerful home computers with extra-strong Wi-Fi antennas that communicate with each other across relatively long distances and distribute signals to a smaller network of perhaps a dozen other computers in the immediate vicinity.

Many use SNet to get access to popular TV shows and movies. The system also stores a copy of Wikipedia. It’s not necessarily current, but is routinely refreshed by users with true Internet access. There’s also a homegrown version of a social network that functions similarly to Facebook.