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Google Offers Internet Access For Cuba Amid Historic Obama Visit

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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Cubans to receive Google Internet access as frosty relationship between the two nations thaws

The first US Presidential visit to the island of Cuba in 90 years is significant in many ways, after decades of sanctions and hostility.

On the back of the historic visit to the Communist country by President Obama comes the news that Google is to expand its Wi-Fi and broadband access in Cuba.

Improved Access

The upgrade of Google’s Internet services to Cuba was revealed by President Obama during an interview with ABC News, in which he highlighted the opening up of business deals between the two countries as a sign of improving relations.

“One of the things that we’ll be announcing here is that Google has a deal to start setting up more Wi-Fi and broadband access on the island,” he said.

Obama made the comments ahead of his meeting with President Raul Castro.

It is understand that fewer than five percent of Cuban household currently have Internet access.

Internet of things fibre cable circuit board network © asharkyu Shutterstock“The time is right,” Mr Obama told ABC News, when asked why he was proceeding now with the Cuba initiative. “Obviously our intention has always been to get a ball rolling, knowing that change wasn’t going to happen overnight.”

Obama admitted that there still significant differences around human rights and civil liberties between the two countries.

Google’s chief Internet evangelist, Vint Cerf, had days earlier reportedly delivered an unusual talk to Cuban officials.

“The people of Cuba and the people of the United States are calling for it, collaboration between the two peoples apart from politics,” he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. “Information technology is essential, perhaps the most important, for human development these days.”

Frosty Relationship

The relationship between American and Cuba has been improving in recent years after decades of hostility.

Indeed, it was only in 2014 that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) revealed it had been working for more than two years to create a social network in Cuba that could act as a medium to bring together dissenting opinions in the hope that this might assist in the overthrow of the Cuban government.

A year earlier in 2013, monitoring firm Renesys revealed that a submarine fibre-optic cable linking Cuba with Venezuela had been activated, nearly two years after it was completed.

That fibre cable was the product of an agreement between state-owned telecommunications from Cuba and Venezuela. The Alternativa Bolivariana para los Pueblos de nuestra América (ALBA-1) had been due to be completed in 2009, but delays meant that it was not finished until 2011.

Until the activation of the cable, Cubans had to rely on satellite services for their Internet connections, but these were often slow and expensive.

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