White House Aims to Nudge Cuban Telecom Development Forward


Cuba’s famously laggard internet market may be getting a major boost from the U.S. government.

The White House Oct. 14 released a policy directive laying out government efforts meant to normalize relations with Cuba and make permanent a 2014 commitment to ending the U.S. trade embargo against the island nation. The biggest attention grabbers in the directive are the lifting of restrictions on importing Cuban cigars and rum. But the directive also contains a number of provisions that could see the U.S. help kick Cuba’s lagging internet connectivity into high gear.

The U.S. is looking to strike up a bilateral working group with Cuba to expand internet penetration there, President Obama said in the directive. The idea, he said, is to help Cuba realize its aggressive goal of getting 50 percent of its population online by 2020, up from 5 percent today (other estimates are higher, but according to internet freedom watchdog Freedom House, those higher figures misleadingly include people who only have access to Cuba’s North Korea-style walled-off nationwide intranet). The State Department will also provide guidance and support to help grow telecom and internet access in Cuba, Obama said.

U.S. companies have been itching to flood into the virtually untapped Cuban telecom market, and the Federal Communications Commission and Senate have spent the last year advancing measures that should make it easier for American telcos to invest in Cuba. Any such plans could face some obstacles to realization, though: Cuba seems chary to welcome American investment in the market, and the House has countered the Senate efforts with its own measures that would limit U.S. telecom companies’ ability to work with Cuban authorities.