Saturday, December 12, 2015

Beginning a discussion of Cuban Internet policy

Number of countries with broadband plans, source ITU

The policy research process, like the policy it produces, should be open and transparent.

Norges Rodriguez wrote a recent post surveying the historical causes of the sorry state of the Cuban Internet and calling for a digital revolution. At the end of that post, he promised a followup post suggesting steps to take on the road to Cuban connectivity.

He has now published the followup post. You should read Rodriguez' post, but here are a few points I took from it:
  • He advocates competition and is wary of partnerships with Google or other large firms.
  • ETECSA has an important role to play, but it must be re-defined -- a national monopoly on wholesale and retail service is clearly a bad idea. (Note that incumbent monopolies often prove to be strong competitors after markets are opened to competition).
  • The government has a significant role to play in subsidising connectivity to public institutions and poor people, encouraging digital literacy, reducing the digital gap between rural and urban areas and creating content.
  • Transparency in policy setting, enforcement and business is mandatory.
His post is not a plan, but a call to start the discussion. The road to connectivity is a long one and the time to start planning is now.

The starting point is setting infrastructure and application goals. Infrastructure goals are things like affordable fixed and mobile broadband, connectivity to homes and public buildings and high usage rates in rural and urban areas and by men and women. Application goals would focus on areas like health, education, industry, government and entertainment. (For an early definition of this sort of framework, in which Cuba is used as an example, see this article).

Infrastructure regulation and ownership policies are equally important. What should be the role of the national government, local governments, private cooperatives and companies, foreign investors and the owners of homes and other premises?

The bad news is that Cuba is late to the game, but the good news is that many other national and local governments have implemented a diverse array of infrastructure ownership strategies and Cuba can learn from their experience -- what works and what does not. Cuba is also free to adopt emerging technologies.

We have seen a leaked executive summary of an infrastructure plan for the next five years, but it is not focused on future technologies or ownership policies. Furthermore, it had to be leaked.

If Cuba wishes to jump to a modern Internet, policy research and planning should begin today. The policy research process, like the policy it produces, should be open and transparent. Norges Rodriguez has outlined several principles, but the government, ETECSA, universities and others must join the conversation.

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This post was translated into Spanish by a friend, Armando Camacho. (Scroll down for the Spanish version). It is on his blog, Carpe Diem, which covers the Internet and a lot more.
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