Despite Tuesday’s announcements from Washington of loosening air travel and export financing restriction related to Cuba, several round of meeting in Havana last week produced little movement forward when it came to establishing agreements about internet connectivity and telecommunications on the island.
U.S. State Department officials said that while the U.S. is making efforts to push progress and close telecommunications agreements before the end of Barack Obama presidency, Cuban officials are still proceeding with caution.
“We need to have some solid wins to give [U.S. business] confidence,” said David Sepúlveda, the coordinator for international communications and Information policy in the State Department, in an interview with the Miami Herald.
Mr. Sepúlveda led a 14-member delegation that met in Cuba last week to discuss U.S. regulations which would allow American Internet and telecom companies to engage in a variety of business activities on the island, so long as Cuba allows it.
Early policy regulations by the Obama Administration announced after the normalization of relations in December 2014 created exemptions around the embargo for U.S. telecom companies to invest in Cuba.
Recently, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) removed Cuba from its exclusion list which now means that U.S.-based telecom operators can provide Internet and telephone services to Cuba without separate approval from the FCC and can now export telecom equipment and products to Cuba.
According to Mr. Sepúlveda, there are currently at least a half a dozen proposals by U.S. and non-U.S. companies for the construction of an undersea fiber optic cable between the U.S. and Cuba.
Cuba currently relies primarily on satellites for its communication needs and its only undersea cable connects to Venezuela.
In July, Google executives traveled to Cuba to probe the government’s willingness to allow the company to scale up island-wide Wi-Fi broadband internet access which would allow Cubans with smartphones to openly access the internet without the need for cables.
“The hunger on this side — from business — is big,” Mr. Sepúlveda said.
With only 5 to 25 percent of Cubans connected to any type of internet service, Cuba has one of the lowest connectivity rates in the world.
The Cuban government also strictly monitors and restricts Internet access, similar to restrictions found in Iran and North Korea.
“We’re doing as much as we possibly can on our side. At this point, the biggest thing that is missing is trust,” Sepúlveda said.
According to the U.S. delegation, Cuban officials said they would take these opportunities under consideration, but the new regulations for the telecom sector have their limitations and connectivity for the island is not a major priority at present.
Rather, in all of its dealings with the U.S., Cuban officials have prioritized ending the embargo.
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