Monday, November 30, 2015

NY Times editorial on the Internet in Cuba

The New York Times has published an editorial call to "bring Cuba online." they say "millions of Cuban citizens could have affordable access to the Internet in a matter of months" if only the government were willing to allow Google to go forward with a Project Link installation or invite companies to bid on mobile licenses, as was done in Myanmar.

I appreciate their goal, but there are stumbling blocks and problems with their proposal.

Google made an unspecified proposal to build Internet infrastructure in Cuba, but some in the Cuban government did not trust Google's representatives. The Times suggests Google's Project Link, which has been implemented in Kampala and Accra, as a model, but Project Project Link only provides a wholesale fiber backbone in a city, not national, retail coverage -- and it would take more than a few months to implement.

The editorial also ignores the interests of ETECSA, the Cuban telecommunication monopoly. If ETECSA's goal is to maximize profit or government revenue, Cuba will fall short of the vision of the Times. (I speak from the experience of being a customer of a monopoly Internet service provider, Time Warner Cable).

They also overlook Cuban commitments to and history of doing business with Chinese telecommunication firms.

Even if the government were willing, inviting in Google or accepting Myanmar-like bids for mobile licenses, would limit Cuban technology and, more important, policy choices. Cuba has an opportunity to leapfrog technology and implement policies that will benefit the Cuban people.

I am not optimistic that that will happen, but it is possible that after 2018, when Raúl Castro has retired and the Cuban economy has improved, Cuba will have the funds and will to implement a uniquely Cuban, modern Internet.

Update 12/9/2015

Norges C. Rodríguez Almiñán has written a thoughtful blog post, inspired by this New York Times editorial.

He starts by surveying Cuba's history of the supression of free expression and communication technology and recalls Cuba-US conflicts from the Bay of Pigs to ZunZuneo with events like the Cuban Missle Crisis and downed aircraft in between. There are bad deeds all around.

In spite of this, we have December 17th, progress is being made and Rodríguez says it is time for Cuba's digital revolution. Better yet, he promises that in his next post he will suggest steps to take on the road to Cuban connectivity -- I can't wait to read it!

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