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Not Uncle Sam’s Internet: What U.S. Telecommunication Companies Need To Know about Cuba’s Internet Goals

Kegler Brown Global Business News

"[Building the internet in Cuba] is a complex task for which there is no recipe or sole answer and requires working with a national vision and open, intersectional and interdisciplinary participation to allow the development of a national strategy to place this technology and accompanying infrastructure in service of building the prosperous and sustainable socialism that is intended."

-Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez,first vice-president, Council of State and Ministers of Cuba

In the short interval between President Obama's announcement that the U.S. would allow the sale of telecommunications products and systems to Cuba, Netflix has announced its services in Cuba and the Cuban state telecommunications company ETECSA has concluded conversations with the U.S. company IDT Domestic Telecom, Inc. to provide a direct Cuba-U.S. telecommunications connection. It appears that both Cuba and U.S. companies are intent on moving quickly to take advantage of the new export openings in telecommunications. However, at a time when the U.S. is debating "net neutrality" and government oversight, it is important for U.S. telecommunications companies seeking to do business with Cuba to understand Cuba's views on the internet. Luckily, a recent island-wide meeting of Cuban communications professionals provides strong hints on how Cuba wants to develop the internet, at least in the short run.

On February 19 and 20, more than 11,000 information technology personnel met in Cuba to discuss the future of the internet in Cuba. The first workshop on Information and Cybersecurity held on the island included among its goals the formation of a national internet policy and a closing speech by Miguel Diaz-Canel. In his speech, Diaz-Canel expressed Cuba's wholehearted intent and need to embrace the internet and pledged that the "State would work to make this resource available, accessible and affordable to all." Diaz-Canel acknowledged that the internet is part of the basic infrastructure needed by Cuba for economic and scientific development as well as social and cooperative communication and association but identified a number of challenges facing Cuba. Those challenges include the need for coherent and transparent national internet legislation that clearly spells outs policies, rights and duties, the need to increase national data banks and access to data, the need to increase education about the internet as well as online education and the need for open standards and open source code.

However, what may be most striking to American policy makers is Diaz-Canel's unequivocal description of Cuba's intent that the internet be a tool to advance the evolving goals of the Cuban socialist model. Diaz-Canel, while acknowledging the internet as a double-edged sword that has been and could be used against the interest of Cuba, quoted Fidel Castro as saying that "information would become the most powerful scientific, economic and political force for Cuba." Diaz-Canel centered Cuba's internet strategy on addressing "the fundamental problems of society, its economic, social and cultural challenges" and achieving "social participation in the construction of the social project that we want to comprehensively design."

Diaz-Canel's speech, given his position, undoubtedly lays out the philosophical roadmap for Cuba's developing internet strategy. U.S. companies focused on providing the infrastructure and content in line with Cuba's internet strategy and who can demonstrate commitment and trust to help Cuba achieve those goals will undoubtedly have an advantage in developing business there.

As Cuba's internet policies develop, we are likely to see continued state centralized development and control of infrastructure, content and use focused on economic and social strategies with a strong emphasis on education and Cuba's sustainable socialism ideology. This does not mean an absence of Google, Netflix, movies or games but it probably does mean that the interest outlined by Diaz-Canel will take priority in Cuban broadband. 

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