HAVANA – U.S. digital giant Google and Cuba’s state telecom company Etecsa signed on Monday in Havana a pact to step up access speed for Google’s online products, a timid improvement to the island’s sluggish Internet access.
The agreement was reached last Nov. 23 and was confirmed Monday in the Cuban capital by Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt and the president of Etecsa, Mayra Arevich.
With this agreement, Cuba obtains access to the previously banned Google Global Cache, which cuts access time to Google content on the Internet, providing greater speed and quality of service and optimizing the capabilities of the Etecsa international network, the Cuban company said.
This accord allows Etecsa to use Google technology to reduce delays in delivering locally some of the American company’s most popular wide-band content, such as videos and YouTube, Google said in a statement.
Google’s presence on the island goes back to 2014, a few months before the diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the U.S., when for the first time it launched such products as Google Chrome, Google Play and Google Analytics.
The company said the accord reflects Google’s most essential values: making all the information in the world accessible and useful for everyone, so that costs, connectivity and language barriers are beside the point.
Since diplomatic relations were resumed, the U.S. has often expressed its interest in Cuba having more and better Web access, since the island is currently among the countries with the lowest Internet penetration in the world.
The U.S. has in some respects eased its embargo on the island to improve that situation.
Cuban authorities say, however, that these measures are very limited and the embargo is still in force, making it hard to acquire software and the latest in information technology
Google last March opened as a test run its first technology center in Cuba, located in the studio of artist Alexis “Kcho” Leyva in Havana, which offers free access to a much faster connection than is to be found anywhere else in the country, and lets enthusiasts try out the company’s latest-generation products.
Internet access is generally banned in Cuban homes and is only permitted for professionals like journalists, lawyers and academics with special government authorization, though since July 2015 hundreds of Wi-Fi zones have been set up around the island in public places where an hour’s connection costs around $2.00.
Cuba now has 1,006 Web-surfing stations, including 200 wireless Wi-Fi zones that serve some 250,000 users a day, according to the latest Etecsa data from last September.