NOTE: An update to this article is at:
Recognizing the urgent need to improve its infrastructure and bolster the private sector economy, Castro & company felt the need to engage the U.S. in dialog to get U.S. companies to invest in the island, especially in telecommunications and information infrastructure.
We were not surprised to read this section of President Obama’s new course for Cuba:
“Telecommunications providers will be allowed to establish the necessary mechanisms, including infrastructure, in Cuba to provide commercial telecommunications and Internet services, which will improve telecommunications between the United States and Cuba.”
Included in the list of products and services that the US will will now make available to Cuba are “certain consumer communications devices, related software, applications, hardware, and services, and items for the establishment and update of communications-related systems.”
Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and the closest to the U.S. The island nation’s telecom system, is just starting to be upgraded, after more than five decades of aging and breaking down. A revealing editorial in the December 15th Gramma (Cuba’s state owned and controlled newspaper) is titled The digitalization of society, a priority for Cuba:
“Steps have been taken at the administrative and enterprise levels to guarantee technological sustainability and sovereignty for the massive provision of Internet access services. The trial balloon has been the opening of 154 Public Navigation Centers, distributed throughout the nation, as a prelude to the generalized availability of data services, which will allow the country to commercially offer broadband access (with greater speed and options), work on which is currently underway.”
Continuing……”other initiatives are under development, or in the start-up process, to facilitate the distribution of data via mobile phones and the development of platforms for university and institutional networks, which could extend their services to all of society.”
“The strategy additionally projects the creation of new wireless access capacity; and the integration and orderly use of institutional data networks, such as those in sectors such as public health, education and culture, which are well known by Cuban users. These will be hosted by high performance servers, which will facilitate their potential use. Also planned is the development of video games and multimedia with educational and historical content, as well as the updating of the regulatory framework governing the use of information and telecommunications technology.”
However, one critic is skeptical. Martyn Warwick writes in a blog post:
“Even those privileged enough to have access to a computer and an Internet connection pay through the nose for a very patchy service. Connectivity is a lottery for much of the time and system often falls over and lays dead for indeterminate periods. Hourly connection, when available can cost as much as 20 per cent of the minimum monthly wage. Almost all digital files are exchanged offline via USB sticks that are sold on the dollar black market.”
“Cuba desperately needs good, modern, efficient and inexpensive comms and although the US economic embargo remains in place for the moment, the monolith is cracked. Mr. Obama is using his executive power as President to permit infrastructure projects that will “promote civil society” in Cuba – and that means telecoms.”
Bottom line: Cuba seeks help from U.S. telecommunications carriers and equipment manufacturers to modernize it’s outdated telecom facilities in order to provide broadband access for the country’s industries, universities, and the public. The projects and strategies noted by Gramma can NOT be achieved without international assistance and investment to build out and overhaul/ upgrade Cuba’s telecommunications networks and information infrastructure.