Cuba to launch residential broadband pilot, but gives no details on timeline, pricing

Cuba plans to begin offering a broadband service in two Havana neighborhoods as part of a pilot designed to give residential customers access in a country where there's been little, if any Internet service options.

As part of its plan ETECSA, Cuba's state-run telco, said on Saturday that it will permit cafes, bars and restaurants to subscribe to broadband service to run their businesses.

However promising this development is, Odalys Rodríguez del Toro, ETECSA director for Havana did not say when the pilot project would begin or when it would broaden the reach of broadband outside of the two initial neighborhoods. He added that ETECSA would reveal broadband prices at a later date.

Access to broadband services in Cuba has been limited to diplomats or employees of foreign companies who have to pay hundreds of dollars a month for Internet services that are far slower than what's available in other countries like the United States.

Cuba only began offering public Wi-Fi broadband access in 2015. Users can access the Internet for $2 an hour. This is still far too expensive for most of Cuba's citizens.

Del Toro said ETECSA plans to open 30 additional Wi-Fi hot spots in Havana this year, doubling the country's available Internet access points. She did not reveal how many the government is planning to open in other cities.

The broadband pilot comes at an interesting time for Cuba, particularly as President Barack Obama moves to loosen the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba.

In mid-January, the Federal Communications Commission removed Cuba from its exclusion list, opening up opportunities for more U.S.-based communications service providers to offer telephone and Internet services to the country without needing to get separate regulatory approval.

Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, recently visited Havana to talk about how the commission can work with Cuba to increase connectivity between it and the U.S.

"By removing Cuba from this list, the Commission opened the door for U.S. telecom carriers to provide facilities-based voice and data service to Cuba without separate approval from the Commission," Wheeler said in a blog post. "This should lead to increased competition on the U.S.-Cuba route.  We are also working on removing certain non-discrimination requirements on the U.S.-Cuba route, which would give U.S. carriers more flexibility to negotiate rates with the state-owned telecommunications operator and to respond to market forces."

U.S.-based service providers Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and Sprint began offering international mobile services in the country, in September and November respectively, while Netflix launched its streaming video services in Cuba last February despite few people being able to stream its video. 

For more:
- The Washington Times via AP has this article
- see this FCC blog post

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