The establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba was one of the big stories of the latter half of Barack Obama’s second term.
Industry in general and telecommunications in particular stand to make gains from the opening, for two reasons. Cuba is an island with a population of more than 11 million people that is within a stone’s throw of mainland United States. Its telecommunications infrastructure needs to be upgraded. That’s all good. What is even better is that many Cuban families (not to speak of friends) live in either of the two countries. A lot of money can be made enabling them to communicate with each other.
Two events occurred within weeks of each other that have the potential to influence the evolution of the telecom links between the countries: Donald Trump was elected president and Fidel Castro died.
On first blush, it seems odd to think that Castro’s death would have significant impact. He was retired and ailing. It is important, however, to keep in mind that Castro truly is Cuba’s George Washington. So his views, positions and basic philosophies matter as long as he is available to approve or disapprove.
It is an even more nuanced discussion for two other reasons: The current leader is Castro’s brother – and he himself is nearing retirement. Fortune suggests that things in Cuba could speed up:
His younger brother Raúl Castro has largely led Cuba since 2006, but, as the New York Times put it this morning, Raúl’s “slow, halting steps toward change” could accelerate without his older brother’s influence. That acceleration could be particularly marked when it comes to Internet access and the digital economy.
The death of Fidel Castro is proof positive of a generational shift. The Voice of America points out that Raul Castro himself is scheduled to retire in 2018. It seems that the immediate future will be a prolonged transition as policy makers adjust to the absence of Fidel Castro and the current administration determines whether it will be active or a caretaker until la generación más joven se hace cargo (the younger generation takes over).
One positive sign for the telcos is that, according to Fortune, current vice president Miguel Mario Diaz-Cancel is an electrical engineer and Facebook poster. He is thought to be Raúl Castro’s likely successor.
The more obvious wildcard is the election of Trump as president. Business Insider says that candidate Trump had no problem with the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. After Fidel Castro’s death, Trump tweeted that, according to the story, “he would end what he referred to as Obama's ‘deal’ if Cuba did not do more for its people.” As has become common with the incoming administration, there is far more speculation and tea leaf-reading than facts. It should be kept in mind that Trump is business-friendly.
Against this unclear backdrop, Google and the Cubans have signed an agreement, announced this week, that will enable Google to install servers on Cuba. The Guardian says that this will speed access. Currently, data must travel through Venezuela, since there is no direct telecommunications link between the United States and Cuba. It may soon become clear whether, and how quickly, that will change.
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.