Type: Articles Published
On March 15, 2016, President Obama embarked on a historic visit to Cuba, marking the first time that a U.S. president visited the country in 90 years.1 In his Havana speech, the president stated, “The [i]nternet should be available across the island, so that Cubans can connect to the wider world and to one of the greatest engines of growth in human history.”2 This statement mirrors his earlier views when he first initiated major diplomatic and policy changes in U.S.-Cuba relations. In December 2014, President Obama stated, “I believe in the free flow of information. Unfortunately, our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe. So I’ve authorized increased telecommunications connections between the United States and Cuba.”3 In effecting the president’s desire for the free flow of information to Cuba, the U.S. Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), and the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry & Security (BIS) have recently made a number of amendments to their regulations, paving the way for U.S. telecommunications and internet service providers to enter the Cuban market.
Improving Access to Internet and Telecommunications Services in Cuba
Reports indicate that Google is setting the stage to enter the Cuban economy and be a major service provider on the island.4 In March 2016, Google announced that it would open the “Google + Kcho.Mor” technological center in Havana to enable Cubans to familiarize themselves with Chromebook laptops and provide free internet access.5 Currently, there is limited bandwidth and a significant cost associated with providing internet access.6 Where internet connection is available, the connection is often very slow.7 Previously, Cubans paid $4.50 an hour for web browsing, which was recently reduced to $2 an hour at public WiFi hotspots, a significant sum considering the population’s low wages of $26 a month.8 Internet access is only available in 35 public WiFi hotspots, which are operated by Cuba’s state-owned telecommunications company, ETESCA. Internet content remains censored by the government.