Normalisation of relations with the US lifts restrictions in telecom equipment imports
Cuba still has the lowest mobile phone and internet penetration rates in the region, and is also among the lowest for fixed-line teledensity. Fixed-line and mobile services remain a monopoly of the government-controlled Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba (ETESCA Cubacel).
Although there remain substantial state controls over the right to own and use certain communications services, including the right to access the internet, a thawing of relations between the US and Cuba has encouraged the government to improve access to services. During 2015 a number of free Wi-Fi hotspots were introduce, albeit with slow connectivity, and while the cost of internet access was more than halved in mid-year, to $2 per hour, it is still prohibitively expensive for most Cubans. Access to sites is also tightly controlled and censored. The ongoing normalisation of relations with the US promises to have considerable economic benefits for Cuba. This is particularly important given the dire economic difficulties of the country’s chief sponsor, Venezuela. During 2015 the main US mobile network operators, including AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile US, signed internet and roaming agreements with the Cuban incumbent telco ETESCA, while in January 2016 the FCC allowed US firms to do business directly with the Cuban telecom sector. In addition, the government has looked favourably on proposals for a new subsea cable to link Cuba directly with Florida, which would supplement the only direct international cable access, via the ALBA-1 cable from Venezuela.
Market penetration rates in Cuba’s telecoms sector – 2015 (e)
|Penetration of telecoms services:|
|Mobile SIM (population)|
(Source: BuddeComm based on various sources)
- Thaw in relations with the US promising stimulus to Cuba’s economic prospects;
- FCC removes Cuba from its ‘exclusion list’, enabling US companies to
- Cuba expresses interest in new subsea cable to Florida;
- Netflix launched services in Cuba in February 2015 following the lifting of trade restrictions from US companies, though the high price guarantees limited take-up.
- T-Mobile joins Verizon and Sprint in offering roaming and cheap calls to Cuba;
- DTTV reached about five million people by late 2014, with coverage extended to all provincial capital cities.
- In mid-2014 the government allowed internet services to be extended to non-agricultural cooperatives, though these must comply with the same strict conditions which apply to other authorized outlets.
- The ALBA-1 submarine fibre-optic cable between Cuba and Venezuela has the potential to provide 640Gb/s bandwidth. In May 2013 the Jamaican branch of the cable was opened for traffic, following the route through to Venezuela in January 2013.
- In March 2014 ETECSA introduced a new mobile email service, @nauta.cu. The operator also planned to extend ADSL-based services to residential homes. In preparation, the Ministry of Communications set the maximum tariff which ETECSA can charge per megabyte at CUC1.
- ETECSA in February 2015 allowed Cubans to have up to three mobile lines, lifting the restriction of a single line per subscriber imposed in March 2008.