NSAM Staff Report
A 40-year-old embargo imposed on Cuba by the US is showing signs of softening, but the implications on telecom policy remain hard to predict even with the prospect of significant economic benefits for Cuban citizens. The Obama administration recently moved to ease travel restrictions to the island nation (note: US citizens are still “barred” from visiting, but the law is routinely broken), and it also began permitting US telecom firms to provide services into the country.
On the heels of the announcement, Florida-based TeleCuba – which has been devising plans to build a 110-mile submarine cable into the country for the last ten years – came out publicly with its intentions to establish connectivity by Q2 2011. There’s just one problem – the Cuba Government has not officially granted its blessing. (Officials from TeleCuba did not respond to repeated requests to comment on this story.)
Cuba may be headed toward more open engagement with the United States, but uncertainty about a cable linking the two countries and hard-fisted site blocks are reminders that little happens as planned ninety miles south of Key West, Florida.
There are undoubtedly other US providers and investors seeking to cash in on what is seen as a golden opportunity to inject broadband-driven commerce into a country that ranks as among the lowest in Internet penetration in the Western Hemisphere.
Cuba has taken steps to liberalize telecom, and increased competition among mobile providers will spread usage. Affordability remains a significant hurdle, however, as the typical Cuban makes about $25 US a month.
Meanwhile, for those lucky folks who have Internet connectivity in Cuba (via satellite), there are ever-present reminders that the government is keeping a watchful eye on where they are visiting. Earlier this week, visitors to a site called “Revolico” where re-routed to the search engine at Google.com. The site has emerged as a popular destination to buy and sell goods and services, acting as a virtual classified advertising section for Cuban citizens.
Both US politicians and citizens have become increasingly vocal in their opposition of the “idiotic” barriers preventing free engagement. Numerous cities in the United States – including New Orleans, Key West and Miami – have begun exploring best ways to prepare for regular, commercial air travel between the two countries. Finally, recent polls have shown that the majority of Americans support the elimination of the trade embargo.
Still, the current government is definitely not winning any awards for congeniality. According to The Heritage Institute’s economic freedom rankings, Cuba places only ahead of Zimbabwe and North Korea in terms of ease of doing business.