Google signs internet deal with Cuba’s telecommunications monopoly

Google signed an agreement with the Cuban government on Monday granting internet users in the country quicker access to its branded content.

HAVANA, CUBA (DECEMBER 12, 2016) (REUTERS) – Google signed an agreement with the Cuban government on Monday (December 12) granting internet users on the Communist-run island quicker access to its branded content.

Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc, signed the deal with Mayra Arevich Marin, president of state telecommunications monopoly ETECSA. It grants Cubans speedy access to the Google Global Cache network, which stores content from sites like Gmail and YouTube on servers located closer to end users.

In a country where public internet access is limited to slow and expensive Wi-Fi hot spots, it was not clear how the deal would actually impact service in the short term.

“This deal allows ETECSA to use our technology to reduce latency by caching some of our most popular high bandwidth content like YouTube videos at a local level,” a Google statement said.

Central director of commerce and marketing at ETECSA, Tania Velazquez, explained what would improve.

“It (agreement) will shorten access time to Google contents on the Internet, providing greater speed and quality in the service and the optimisation of the capacities of the international network of ETECSA to be able to deliver contents locally that demand greater band width,” Velazquez said.

President Barack Obama has made improved internet access a central part of his efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, first announced two years ago.

However, Cuba to date has balked at allowing U.S. companies to participate in wiring the country, citing national security concerns.

Whether because of a lack of investment or concerns about the flow of information in a state that monopolizes the media, Cuba has lagged behind in internet usage. Only 3.4 percent of Cuban homes had either intranet or internet access last year, according to a U.N. agency.

The Google deal comes as officials in Havana and Washington are working to wrap up pending commercial accords before President Barack Obama leaves office next month.

Cuban resident Jordan Casas said he felt optimistic about the agreement.

“I think it is important for us Cubans to have more access to internet connection, to WiFi. That would be important. It is good that Google and Cuba have made an agreement because that way, they can make it easier for us, to have better communication, to be able to enter places where we have never been able to enter, I do not know, new things,” Casas said.

Another Cuban resident, Wendy Ana Rodriguez, said ETECSA needed to do more to improve connectivity on the island.

“Connection and access to the Internet doesn’t depend on just Google but also from ETECSA. They should improve the conditions throughout the country. I don’t know, for example, that there should be more internet points maybe so that people don’t have to move so much from one point to the other to get connected,” Rodriguez said.

President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to scrap detente between the Cold War foes unless Cuba makes political and other concessions.

Improved bilateral relations have been accomplished through executive orders circumventing trade embargo laws and can easily be reversed by Trump.

The Obama administration has said it hopes increased commercial links between the two countries will make it difficult for future administrations to undo the recent warming in U.S.-Cuba relations.

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