March 21, 2016
As US President Barack Obama visits Cuba this week, the first time a sitting US president has visited the country since 1928, Talkin’ Cloud looks back at Cuba’s complicated history with telecommunications and the Internet.
Cuba has a low Internet penetration rate of 30 percent, according to 2014 data from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), up from 28 percent in 2013 and 14 percent in 2009.
Why is it so low? For one, costs remain prohibitive for many Cubans, and the infrastructure is lacking. There are two state-run Internet Service Providers (ISPs), giving Cubans little choice for Internet connectivity and mobile phone services.
Could improved relations with the US change that? On Monday, Obama announced that Google was working on bringing improved access to WiFi and broadband to Cuba.
Based on numbers and data from Freedom House, here are some key dates you should know about Cuba’s Internet history:
2008: Cuban government begins allowing Cubans to buy personal computers after nearly a decade-long ban
2012: Government-owned telecommunications firm ETECSA eliminates fees for receiving phone calls within Cuba
2013: ALBA-1, a 1,600KM high-speed undersea cable stretching between Cuba and Venezuela, is activated
June 2013: Citizens are able to access the Internet through broadband connections to the new fiber-optic cable at 118 government-run “navigation halls”
March 2014: Users can send and receive emails on their phone but only with a .cu email account
May 2014: Cuban authorities start to dismantle wired or WiFi-based LANs created by citizens in some Havana neighborhoods
July 2014: French telecom Orange Digital Horizons signs secret deal with ETECSA to offer its services, products and prices to the local operator and share expertise
December 2014: US President Barack Obama announces that the US will restore diplomatic relations with Cuba
January 2015: Officials plan to open 136 more Internet access centers around the country by the end of 2015
February 2015: ETECSA temporarily reduces hourly charge for using Internet at navigation halls and state-run cybercafes from $4.50 an hour to $2 US per hour
March 2015: US carrier IDT Corp reaches accord with ETECSA to provide direct international long distance calls
April 2015: Cuban government pledges to expand home connections to 50 percent of the population of 11 million people, and mobile Internet connections to 60 percent by 2020
July 2015: Cuabn government opened 35 paid public Wi-Fi hotspots; lower prices of $2 US per hour go into longer term effect beginning July 1
March 2016: During US President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba, he announces that Google is working on a deal to bring WiFi and broadband to Cuba
What do you think about Google’s promise to improve Internet accessibility in Cuba? Do you think there is a channel opportunity there or is it too soon to tell? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter, @Talkin_Cloud.
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