Belfast Telegraph

Cuba to launch broadband home internet

Cuba is launching its first broadband home internet service in two Havana neighbourhoods as a pilot project aimed at bringing home access to one of the world's least-connected nations.

State telecommunications company ETESCA said it would allow Cubans in Old Havana, the colonial centre that is one of the communist island's main tourist attractions, through fibre optic connections operated with Chinese telecom firm Huawei.

Odalys Rodriguez del Toro, Etesca's director for Havana, said the government would also begin allowing cafes, bars and restaurants to begin ordering broadband service.

She offered no timeline for the pilot project or roll-out of broader access and said prices would be announced in the future.

Still, fibre-optic home connections would be an important milestone in Cuba, where broadband home service is currently legal only for diplomats and employees of foreign companies who pay hundreds of dollars a month for connections for internet connections that are a fraction of the average speed in other countries.

Some Cubans have dial-up home service or restricted mobile phone connections that allow access only to state-run email.

General public access to broadband internet began only last year, with the opening of dozens of public wi-fi spots that cost two dollars (£1.40) an hour - about a tenth of the average monthly salary in Cuba.

Ms Del Toro said Etesca would open 30 more wi-fi spots in Havana alone this year, which by itself would double the number of access points in Cuba. She did not say how many more were planned for other cities.

The United States has been pushing Cuba to show that it is improving conditions for its citizens as President Barack Obama loosens the half-century old US trade embargo on the island through a series of executive actions.

Mr Obama hopes to travel to Cuba this year to celebrate his re-establishment of diplomatic relations, but has said he would visit only if he believed his presence would help improve the lives of ordinary Cubans by moving the island towards greater freedom.

US Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler traveled to Havana this month to meet Cuban officials about increasing Cuba's connections to the internet.

Last week the FCC gave US companies blanket permission to provide voice and data connections to Cuba, doing away with the requirement for special commission permission.

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