Tuesday, December 10, 2013

US-Cuba thaw -- would it help the Internet?

President Obama and Raúl Castro shaking hands at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela drew a lot of news coverage, but it is just the latest sign of softening of US policy.


In 2009, President Obama said he is seeking "a new beginning" in U.S. relations with Cuba. For over a year, Conrad Tribble, second ranking diplomat at the US Interests Section in Havana, has been visible as he engages in dialog with dissidents and loyalists on Twitter (@conradtribble). He is shown here meeting with Cuban bloggers.


Last month, President Obama called for revision of our 1961 Cuba policy to reflect the reality of "the age of the Internet and Google and world travel," and Secretary of State Kerry, speaking of Cuba, said "We have to continue to update our policies."

Change is in the air -- my question is, how will this effect the future of the Internet in Cuba?

The domestic infrastructure (mobile and landline) is woefully inadequate. A couple of years ago, I wondered whether China would finance an upgrade, and I guess the answer was "no." Might a warming of relations between the US and Cuba change China's stance?

What if the US were to drop the embargo tomorrow -- would Cuba be willing to accept foreign investment in ETECSA? In 2011 Rafin, SA bought out foreign investor Telecom Italia's 27% share of ETECSA and the rest is owned by the Ministry of Information and Communication. I do not understand how an SA operates in a socialist state or what its relationship is to the government, but they are not a foreign investor. Would the government allow competing service providers? The short term answer is surely "no."

I am not an economist, but I suspect that even if I were, it would be tough to imagine the path to modern Internet infrastructure in Cuba regardless of US policy.
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