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U.S.-Cuba breakthrough is no slam dunk for Internet

Stephen Lawson | Dec. 19, 2014
The Obama administration's historic move to restore ties between the U.S. and Cuba may eventually put more Cubans online, but the future of the Internet there is likely to depend more on domestic policies than on imported goods and services.

However, given the chance, U.S. carriers might invest in Cuba just to get their feet on the ground there in case the country becomes a fast-growing Internet market, he said.

If Cuba wants to foster a thriving Internet sector, it might do well to follow the example of Myanmar. The poor, historically isolated Southeast Asian country recently sold wireless network licenses to two foreign service providers, Norway's Telenor and Qatar's Ooderoo. They dramatically expanded Myanmar's mobile industry, which had been limited to a small state-owned operator, Madory at Dyn Research said.

"Mobile is the fastest way to come in somewhere," he said. Many developing countries have come online mostly through wireless networks, which are easier and cheaper to deploy than cables. Cuba hasn't even started to take advantage of mobile broadband: In 2013, the country had nearly 2.3 million mobile subscribers, but all were on narrowband 2G networks, according to TeleGeography.

Allowing broader Internet access might pose a dilemma for the Cuban government: Allow more free expression or try to keep tabs on a fast-growing industry, Madory said.

"As the Internet access grows and develops, so does the task of trying to censor things," he said. "Unless you're China, and you want to dump in a ton of resources to do it, it starts to get harder and harder."

 

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