WASHINGTON – The United States has identified “real potential” for faster and more accessible internet and mobile phone services in Cuba, a “big” trade opportunity for U.S. telecommunications firms in coming years.
“There is real potential here as long as there is a will on the Cuban side,” said a senior U.S. official who spoke anonymously on Monday after a visit to the island by senior U.S. telecommunications officials.
The U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy Daniel Sepulveda visited Havana from March 24 to 26 to research telecommunications on the island.
Sepulveda used the visit to explain details of new U.S. Government regulations which since January have eased restrictions on the export of telecommunications and computer hardware and software to Cuba, as part of the bilateral thaw.
According to the official, Cuba has committed to achieving internet penetration rates of 60 percent on mobile services and 50 percent on fixed private lines, objectives set in November by the UN International Telecommunication Union.
Currently, only 2 million of the island’s 11 million inhabitants have access to mobile services on 2G networks.
This creates opportunities for U.S. companies to apply 4G LTE technology, according to the official.
“There has already been an express wish by the U.S. private sector to invest in this,” he added.
He considered their involvement feasible provided the “Cubans create an attractive environment for investment and the provision of services.”
Improving internet access is a major priority for Cuba, a technologically backward country with an internet penetration rate of only 5 percent, one of the lowest in the world.
Broadband internet access rates are even worse, available to around 1 percent of the population.
In Cuba, unrestricted access to the net is available only to a few professionals, such as journalists, doctors and lawyers, with prior government authorization.
The rump of the population can only access the net through official navigation rooms which charge $4.50 per hour, unaffordable for most in a country where average monthly salaries are between $20 and $30.
The United States anticipates meeting again with Cuba to discuss telecommunications in the coming months.
The two countries are now reviewing proposals that their delegations exchanged last week, said the official.