Understanding SNET: The human infrastructures behind Cuba’s alternative computer networks

Talk by Steffen Köhn and Nestor Siré

To compensate for the lack of internet access, Cuban video game enthusiasts and programmers have built vast grass-roots computer networks, the biggest of which, SNET (Street Network), at one point connected tens of thousands of households across Havana. Its material base consists of miles of Ethernet cables running across streets or balconies, Wi-Fi antennas mounted on poles on rooftops, and servers and network switches operated by an army of volunteer node administrators. It relies on a network of thousands of participants who collaboratively create, operate, and maintain its hardware and software infrastructure. This vernacular infrastructure generated not only new means of access, but also new relations between people and fostered new political subjectivities.

SNET is heavily shaped by a local cultural ideology of resolver, of collectively navigating resources and limitations in a context of scarcity. Our artistic research draws on the metaphor of modding (modifying), a communal practice within gaming cultures that describes alterations by players or fans that change the look or functionality of a video game, to understand how SNET makers are forced to constantly adapt to the shifting technical, political, and social frameworks in Cuba.

Admission free, in English, without translation