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Last week, I had the privilege of participating in bilateral talks with the Cuban government focused on how we can work with Cuba to increase connectivity between our two countries, as well as within Cuba.  We discussed ideas for opening more direct communications links with Cuba, and we got a better sense of Cuba’s Internet and communications connectivity needs. We also met with representatives of the small but growing entrepreneurial community that is hungry for network connectivity.

Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda from the State Department led our delegation which also included representatives from the Department of the Treasury as well as representatives of the technology community. The inclusion of the private sector in the talks advanced the dialog with real life examples of what was possible.

The Cubans we met were proud people who recognize the benefits new telecommunications networks can bring to education, health care and economic growth. Our message was simple: we want to help (already, for instance, two companies have roaming agreements with the state-owned telecom provider). We spoke about a new undersea cable connecting our countries, commercial relations for equipment and service providers, as well as an ongoing regulatory dialog.

We at the FCC have contributed to efforts to improve connectivity between the United States and Cuba, and within Cuba, by removing Cuba from the Commission’s Exclusion List for International Section 214 Authorizations.  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.  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.

Cuba remains one of the least digitally connected countries in our hemisphere. They talk about upgrading to DSL and 3G wireless. We urged them to leapfrog such linear transitions and expand to state-of-the-art services. We pledged our support and the support of U.S. companies to achieve this. It is unclear, however, just how anxious the Cuban government is to open up expanded network capabilities.  

I enjoyed my visit to Cuba and came away from it with a newfound understanding of both the opportunities and challenges facing Cuba in terms of communications technology and access.  I am grateful to Ambassador Sepulveda for his unstinting leadership, to our Cuban hosts for their warm hospitality, and to our agency and private sector partners for helping to make the trip a success.