When the United States began to normalize relations with Cuba in late 2014, it seemed to be only a matter of time before big telecommunications companies from the north set up shop in the island country. That was, and remains, a very appealing pot of gold in the form of untapped demand and infrastructure needs from the massive country less than 100 miles to the north.
That still may be the case, but it is apparent that the timeframe is a bit longer than optimists had hoped. The reason is that telecommunications in general and the Internet specifically are particularly sensitive areas. On one hand, according to Bloomberg BNA, reliable access to the Internet is vital for a company to accept credit and debit cards and in other ways be fully enfranchised in the modern financial structure. On the other hand, the regime sees telecom as a step down what the story describes as the slippery slope to U.S. dominance.
The bottom line is that things are better between the two nations, but nowhere near perfect:
That reticence stems from the historic mistrust between the two nations dating back to the Cold War and the thawed, but ongoing, U.S. trade embargo, as well as the Cuban government's view of communications networks as a national security concern rather than a tool for economic development.
Letting in telecom companies is a big step. At the same time, truly doing so is necessary toward giving Cuba financial and social equality – and a step that its government is loath to take.
The flow may go the other way as well. Last month, Computerworld suggested that technology companies in the United States may see more than a promising new market in Cuba. They also perceive Cuba as a new source of IT personnel who, undoubtedly, will be eager and well positioned to serve Cuba and perhaps other central and South American nations. The story points out that 11 CEOs accompanied President Obama when he visited Cuba in March.
A story by the Cuban news agency posted at Escambray is very interesting. It reports on various improvements and expansions being undertaken by Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETESCA), which is the government-controlled carrier. It could be read as an effort to keep people happy and therefore less apt to demand that the Verizons and Sprints be welcomed in. Keep in mind that Cubans hear about the goods and services – telecommunications included – used by friends, relatives and business associates in the U.S., Canada and Europe.
It is inevitable that American carriers and other technology companies will have a big impact on Cuba. What will be interesting to watch going forward is the nature of that involvement and how quickly and deeply these companies embed themselves in Cuban telecommunications and IT.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.