Science, Tech & Environment

Now will Cuba get better Internet service?

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Man makes cell phone call in front of Cuban independence mural in Havana in 2013.

Credit:

Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters

Cuba, your Internet access is crap. You know it. The whole world knows it. But especially your citizens.

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And to some degree, it's not a technical issue. You have a somewhat spanking new underwater cable connecting you to the global internet. We heard about it a few years ago when the people at Dyn Research spotted it.

Turns out Venezuela financed it, a French company built it, and Doug Madory, the guy at Dyn Research who spotted that underwater cable, says it's got potential you haven't even tapped: "It's improved their connectivity to the outside world. However, the improvement of greater access to the people of Cuba, that's still slow going."

Sure, you've built some government-run Internet cafes here and there (which are reportedly heavily censored and too costly for your average Cuban) and you've made an attempt to provide DSL connections for some Cuban households, but all in all, not much improvement. 

So here's your chance. You've got a new agreement with the US. And there's lip service in that agreement to expand access to the Internet.

Doug Madory has a model you might want to follow: Myanmar.

That country just opened up three years ago from the haze of a decades' long military rule and was a total telecom desert. And what they did was to let experienced tech heads in to help them go digital.  "They got a lot of good advice from outside experts, including the World Bank, about how to hold auctions, how to have outside companies come in and do what they do," says Madory. "Telenor out of Norway paid $500 million dollars to the government of Myanmar for a 15-year license." And the Norwegian company is spending another billion dollars to install a state-of-the-art infrastructure with the goal of providing service to 90 percent of the population of Myanmar.

And the Myanmar job is in the jungles of southeast Asia. "I think the island of Cuba would be a lot easier to work in," says Madory. In terms of revenue, he thinks the Cuban government could expect numbers comparable to what Telenor is offering Myanmar.  The service there is just starting to show the effect of the Telenor investment. It isn't yet up to Western standards but Madory says what's most important is that the trajectory is in the right direction.

But in order for Cuba to do something similar, it will have to let go of the notion that it can do it themselves.  "I think in Cuba, they need to let the outside experts come in and do what they do. I think everyone involved, the people of Cuba, the government of Cuba, and the outside companies would all benefit from operating there."

Earlier this year, the BBC's Sarah Rainsford reported from Havana on the frustrations many Cubans have with the lack of Internet access. Here's her video below: