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Google Gains Entry to Cuba to Expand Connectivity

While restoration of ties between the U.S. and Cuba became official last year, President Barack Obama's historic visit this week to the country and with President Raul Castro aims to seal relations and remove a longstanding trade embargo.

The opening of relations promises to vastly modernize information technology in a country where citizens have limited cellular and Internet connectivity. The few who have phones or computers have old technology and only 5 percent are said to have access to wireless data and the Internet. ABC News this morning aired an interview with Obama, who indicated that the Cuban government has reached an agreement with Google to expand broadband and Wi-Fi access in Cuba, as noted by Reuters. "Google has a deal to start setting up more Wi-Fi and broadband access on the island," Obama said.

The president arrived in Cuba yesterday, accompanied by his family, a large delegation of lawmakers from Congress and a group of 11 CEOs from companies which include AirBnB, Marriott, PayPal, Starfish Media and Xerox. Cuba is a country that largely lacks access to technology and companies across the spectrum are likely to look for ways to bring it into the 21st century.

Microsoft has yet to announce its plans to tackle the Cuban market, though it could be fertile ground for the company to push Windows 10, Office 365 and its various datacenter and consumer-oriented offerings. Perhaps Microsoft, Google and Amazon will build their own datacenters to operate their public clouds?

Last May, Microsoft Director of Civic Technology Matt Stempeck visited Cuba and wrote about his findings. The technology he did see there was mostly decades-old systems, often PCs with old CRT displays (remember those?). Despite the limitations of Cuba's tech scene, Stempeck wrote in a blog post that the country is slowly making some strides.

"While Internet service remains rare, especially outside of tourist areas, third-party cellular businesses have sprouted up alongside adjacent farmacias and grocers to serve a far larger percentage of the population than other high tech," Stempeck noted. "Freedom House produces reports about connectivity in Cuba, which is poor but improving."

Naturally concerns about issues such as government surveillance and other restrictions imposed on users will set the stage for how far the IT industry will gain access in Cuba. Over time though, the country's businesses and citizens will gain a new view of the world.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/21/2016 at 12:25 PM


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