Cuba Commentary: Will Internet Access Be Expanded?

cuba obama rubio
Written by Larry Press

Cuba has the possibility of more Internet access than ever before. Our Larry Press comments on the history of Internet in Cuba and where it’s headed.

aNewDomain — A reporter asked me, in regards to President Barack Obama’s announcement on Cuban relations and the release of Alan Gross, how I felt about two specific quotes.

The first quote is from Obama:

Unfortunately, our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe.”

The second was a quote by Florida Senator Marco Rubio:

The reason why they don’t have access to 21st century telecommunications — like smart phones, like access to the internet — is because it is illegal in Cuba.”

President Obama and Florida Senator Marco Rubio

President Obama and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Image Credit: Larry Press

Cuba and the Internet

The reporter wanted to know which statement was closer to the truth, in my opinion.

And, truthfully, I have to say that Senator Rubio’s quote is more accurate. There’s something in both phrasings, but the sad causes of the current state of Cuban Internet are more about illegality than our sanctions.

Here are three primary reasons for Cuba’s current Internet situation.

  1. The Cuban government feared an open Internet: There was high-up debate over how to deal with the Internet when it initially came to Cuba. The anti-Internet faction was led by Raúl Castro, who won out and decided to majorly restrict access. (In contrast, the Chinese government decided to allow and encourage Internet growth and access around this time. They still tightly controlled the content and monitored users, but they opened themselves up to it.)

  2. Financial constraints: At that time, the Cuban economy was in terrible shape, largely because of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, though, Cuba is better off than many Latin American and Caribbean nations who have better Internet infrastructure.

  3. The US trade embargo: The embargo raised the cost of computers and communication equipment in Cuba, which has had a dampening effect. This effect has been diminished with the emergence of China as a major manufacturer of communication equipment, but it does still affect Cuba. The US decision authorizing the provision of communication services in Cuba could have enabled Cuban satellite connectivity — the sort of thing Alan Gross was imprisoned for.

Senator Rubio could also point to the ironic facts that Cuba’s first connection to the global Internet was over a Sprint link funded by the US National Science Foundation and that nearly all Cuban traffic flows through the United States today.

But, that is history. Cuba now says it wants to give the Internet priority. I hope it means what it says — the ball is in its court.

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