The President aims to normalize relations with the communist country after more than 50 years of an economic embargo. As Obama promises greater economic cooperation between the two countries, American technology companies are riding in on his coattails to try to boost their presence in the nation.
This week, Alphabet Inc. (GOOG, GOOGL) – the holding company that owns Google – announced plans to bring high-speed Internet to Cuba, a nation that has historically restricted Internet access to residents. In addition to government limitations – g have access to the Internet, speeds are extremely slow, and service is extremely expensive according to the United Nations.
As of July 2015, the nation had just 35 Wi-Fi access points that could accommodate 50 to 100 users at a time with speeds of up to “1MB per second.” Recently, the Cuban government slashed the price of Internet service from $US4.50 to $2 per hour. However, that cost is still incredibly high for the average person on the island, who earns a salary of roughly $US20 per month. Cubans are optimistic that with greater cooperation between the U.S. government and companies, internet costs will decline and ultimately make in-home Wi-Fi more accessible.
Google hopes to change the status quo and advance the nation into the digital 21st-century with speeds up to 70 times faster than those available to the Cuban public at home.
The firm will be bringing Chromebooks, Cardboard virtual reality kits, and other products to a museum in Havana. Once there, they will connect the technologies to the Internet network owned and operated by government-owned tech firm ETECSA.
Despite the company’s goal to expand into Cuba, the firm acknowledges that it is just in the early stages of such plans (For more, read: A Long Road to Full Diplomatic Relations with Cuba.)
Although Alphabet’s plans are ambitious, concerns are being raised about who will control the internet in the nation that has cracked down on free political speech for decades. The Castro government also maintains a monopoly of the media.
Other companies are looking at expanding into Cuba as well, and will likely face increased government scrutiny. Tech giants Netflix (NFLX) and AirBnb entered Cuba over the last 12 months, while Carnival Corporation (CCL) just won the approval of the nation’s government to transport ships to and from three separate ports. Finally, U.S. hotel giant Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide – which was just purchased by Marriott International (MAR) – plans to refurbish and manage two hotels in the nation’s capital of Havana.