By Dennis Jones
After more than 50 years of diplomatic isolation, Cuba today is one of the least connected countries in the world, with only 5% of its population online. As a result, connecting Cuba is an important pillar of the larger White House effort to normalize relations with the Castro regime. Back in December 2014, for instance, new reforms permitted US telecoms to operate in Cuba. And now, 15 months later, Cuba is in the tech headlines again. Speaking to ABC News during his historic trip to Cuba, the first such visit for a sitting US president in nearly 90 years, Obama announced that Google would be bringing Wi-Fi access to the connectivity-strapped island.
On Google’s end, Brett Perlmutter, the Cuba Lead on Google’s Access team, made only passing mention to Obama’s big news. Even if Google is now playing somewhat coy, it wouldn’t be the first time that the tech giant is generating buzz for its outreach to Cuba. Just last summer, Google allegedly offered to deploy free Wi-Fi across the island.
For its part, since the beginning of 2015, the Cuban government has also announced initiatives to bring Wi-Fi to its citizens. Last year, the state-owned telecom, ETECSA, began deploying public Wi-Fi in the island’s second-largest city, Santiago de Cuba. ETECSA has also partnered with the Chinese telecom, Huawei, to provide broadband access to Old Havana.
But even after these launches, the price of Wi-Fi in Cuba, at $2 an hour, often running up to $10 on the black market, remains prohibitively expensive for the average worker, who only makes a monthly salary of $20. Given these market conditions, commentators are rightly applauding Google’s plan to bring Wi-Fi to the Cuban people. If successful, Google’s Wi-Fi deployment would undoubtedly bolster competition and foster faster digital growth, which would hopefully deliver a more affordable way for people to get connected, fulfilling the core precepts of the WBA’s HOPE for Connectivity charter.