Google to announce a deal with Cuba to improve connectivity: source

SAN FRANCISCO/HAVANA (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc is Google is planning to announce a memorandum of understanding with the Cuban telecommunications monopoly ETECSA on Thursday to explore ways of improving the connections from the Communist-run island, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters.

FILE PHOTO: Lismai Aguilar (C), 18, used a mobile phone to connect to the internet at a hotspot in the centre of Havana, Cuba, 12 December 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

While the relations between the United States and Cuba have nosedived of late, the old Cold War enemies seem to agree on the need for internet access in what is already a long time of the Western world’s least connected nations.

While President Donald Trump has tightened the decades-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, he has not eliminated an exception to the by his predecessor, Barack Obama, that allows U.S. telecommunications companies to provide services to Cuba, such as the set of fiber-optic cable.

AMERICAN tech behemoth Google has been working on expanding its activities in Cuba for a year, although the source said that the agreement was not the obligation of the company to build anything.

The Cuban government had been set to hold a press conference in Havana with Google on Tuesday, but rescheduled for Thursday.

Neither Google officials who work on Cuba projects nor the government responded to requests for comment.

Whether it’s a lack of liquidity, the U.S. embargo or to worry about the flow of information on the internet in Cuba was largely only available to the public at the tourist hotels till 2013.

But the government has since the promotion of connectivity is a priority, the introduction of internet cafés and outdoor Wi-Fi hotspots, slowly begins to hook up homes to the Web, and last December the introduction of mobile internet.

Still, Cubans complain that the connection is slow and expensive and coverage is spotty. The cash-strapped government has recognised that the need for the construction of the infrastructure.

Google took advantage of the Obama-era thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, one that has been frozen more than once more, to a small pilot display center in Havana and signed a deal in 2016, the granting of internet users have faster access to the branded content.

Former Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, met with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel twice last year, first in June in Havana, and in a meeting with other technology executives in New York in September.

Reporting by Paresh Dave in San Francisco and Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by Tom Brown

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