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Source: China Daily China Daily

Cuba to promote Internet access in new era of US ties

Published: 25 Feb 2015 23:50:19 PST

HAVANA - Cuba's state-owned Telecommunications Company SC (Etecsa) has concluded talks with the US IDT Domestic Telecom, INC. (IDT) over the signing of a Service Agreement for the Operation of International Telecommunications, which will allow direct interconnection between the two countries, the Cuban enterprise said on Friday.

No details of the talks between Etecsa and IDT, or the content of the agreement to be signed, are available. There is a statement posted at Etecsa's website featuring the talks between the two companies.

"The restoration of direct communications between the US and Cuba will allow greater facilities and quality in the communications between the people of both nations," said the Cuban company in the statement, indicating that now relevant approvals are expected from the US authorities to implement the agreement.

On Thursday, officials from Etecsa recognized the need to implement pricing policies to make connectivity services more accessible.

The firm said it plans to open another 136 cybercafes across the country in the first quarter of 2015 while slashing the price of internet service by half until April 10 as part of a promotional campaign.

The US-Cuba telecommunications cooperation is in line with the rapprochement between the two nations.

Washington approved in January a plan to provide the island with some telecommunications services as part of its new policy towards Havana, as it is particularly eager to not only influence Cuba through communications and media, but also to do business with the island nation.

It is also stands consistent with the trend of Cuba's computerization process.

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On Friday, the just concluded Cuba First National Workshop on Computerization and Cybersecurity prioritized computerization in the country to boost an economic and social growth, when the United States is easing restrictions on the trade of computer technology and softwares with the island.

The Workshop, held from Wednesday to Friday, attracted over 11,000 industry specialists who hoped to hammer out new national guidelines as easing import restrictions increase the average Cuban's access to the Internet.

At a gathering, some 260 experts discussed four key issues: human and scientific resources available in the country, e-government, information security and economy and legality.

Cuba's Deputy Minister of Communications Wilfredo Gonzalez Vidal acknowledged during discussion that 70 percent of the country's Internet infrastructure is obsolete.

Cuba's current situation "doesn't allow for the possibility of resolving many of the population's needs," he said. "One can see scant progress in the use of Internet."

Gonzalez believed that it is essential to empower people with new technologies and implement policies that encourage the use of Internet.

Cuba already has a regulatory framework in place to enable greater access to Internet among the general population, he said, stressing it will have a huge social impact.

Cuba's priorities now are to spur e-commerce, strengthen the national software industry and promote the development of IT solutions together with private firms, according to the official.

On Wednesday, Apple said some of its products and software will be available for sale to Cuba.

Havana established Internet connection in 1996 via satellite due to embargo, which bars the island from connecting to underwater cables.

In 2011 Venezuela helped connect the island through fiber optic cables laid from Venezuela, but access continued to be restricted, with authorities claiming that providing every household with Internet access demanded considerable infrastructure and investment.

In June 2013, Cuban authorities opened 118 cybercafes throughout the country, offering for the first time public Internet service as part of reforms implemented by Cuban leader Raul Castro.

The cost of 4.50 US dollars an hour is still high, however, for the people with average salary of 20 dollars each month.

As of 2013, only 3.4 percent of households had Internet access, according to the International Telecommunications Union.

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