Google Strikes Deal with Cuba

March 22, 2016 |

By Beatrice Pignatelli

wifi-connectHAVANA TIMES – What would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago is now becoming a reality. Google has been reported to be setting up shop in Cuba.

And what does this imply to the Cuban people? The Holy Grail: cheap and fast Internet.

It was in fact President Obama who pre-announced the deal on the first day of his history-making trip to the island. In an interview with ABC News, Obama stated that “one of the things that we’ll be announcing here is that Google has a deal to start setting up more Wi-Fi and broadband access on the island”.

The first Google initiative is already well underway in the studio of well-known Cuban artist Alex Leyva Machado, better known as  “Kcho”. Kcho has joined forces with the US technology giant on a project “Google + Kcho.Mor”, which plans to provide free internet access 70 times faster than what is currently offered by Etecsa, Cuba’s state-owned internet provider.

Kcho had opened a Wifi hotspot at his home in Havana, the only such authorized thus far. Now the project expands with the participation of Google.

A year ago, Kcho had opened a Wi-Fi hotspot at his home in Havana, the only such authorized thus far. Now the project expands with the participation of Google.  Photo: Juan Suarez

It is reported that Google has already installed a studio in Kcho’s cultural centre in the neighborhood of Romerillo in Havana. Fully equipped with laptops, cell phones, and virtual-reality goggles, the studio will be open to the public five days a week.

As part of a broader cooperative effort to improve the island’s connectivity (which remains one of the lowest in the world), the director of Google in Cuba, Brett Perlmutter, has confirmed that this is “only a beginning” and “demonstrate[s] what can be possible in the future.”

As any Cuban, or recent visitor to the island knows and has experienced, last year’s introduction of public Wi-Fi hotspots across the country have proved to be a highly inadequate attempt at increasing the island’s poor connectivity.

High prices, slow and unreliable connection, shortage of Internet cards (which are all bought out of Etecsa shops and resold by touts at a higher price), and total lack of privacy are amongst the daily gripes of any Cuban attempting to use the state-owned Wi-Fi service to check Facebook, send an email or speak to family and friends abroad.

The arrival of Google will undoubtedly bring some serious competition, not only forcing the cost of Internet access down but also introducing quality of service. The future implications of good, fast, cheap Internet accesses are open to the imagination and will undoubtedly bring challenges over the coming months.

What is certain is that Cuba’s next revolution, the Internet revolution, will be sure to pack a punch.

 

Share this:

What's your opinion?

  • The Yoruba

    Great news!

  • Dan

    Is this goodbye to part of what makes Cuba so irresistible to the rest of the world ? Human interaction and spontaneity replaced by atomized individuals hypothesized by their devices ? I saw it on my last trip a couple of months ago, and was saddened. I am a professional, and yet I do not, and never have, owned a flipphone, much less a smartphone and I do fine. It is frightening to see the incredible power these devices have over most people, and it is particularly disturbing in Cuba, although I understand the utility.

    • No, this is goodbye to ignorance of the cuban people to see how the developed world looks like every day, this will give cubans access to information they don’t have right now, thus encouraging change.

      No, Cuba is not a playground to set americans free from their smartphone, that’s our problem not theirs. While that’s “cute” and “sad” that you lost your “escape” destination, it’s even sadder that’s the only thing you care about when it comes to Cuba.

      Utility? You understand the “utility” of the internet… What kind of professional you are that you think the internet is not needed and it’s just an “utility”?

      • Dan

        Think it’s just the opinion of a selfish Yuma, eh? Obviously you didn’t read Irina Pinos post, right next to this one about culture in the digital age. BTW Igor, buy youself a dictionary.

    • Moses Patterson

      Just because you choose to live in the 20th century, doesn’t mean that those who do not have made a poor choice. Don’t be so judgmental. Cubans want the same things everyone else in the world wants and that includes fast internet service. Keeping Cuba locked in the past just to satisfy your “human zoo” fantasy is unfair.

    • John Goodrich

      At 72 I am no kid but having read a great deal about technological advancement that is rushing at us at a speed most do not realize, I know that you MUST adapt to these technologies or be as lost as a Bushman would be in Times Square.
      The good news that many think is perfectly unthinkable for themselves is that we are at the lip of a technological explosion that really fires up when AI ( artificial Intelligence) achieves human levels around the mid 2020’s ……Yes it is happening that fast … .
      It will become necessary and highly desired to have a computer chip inserted in your head and with connections to the learning centers of your brain ….( currently both the U.S and a European consortium are mapping human brains so we will know all about those learning centers) These chips will enable you to keep up with the fantastic speed at which things will come at us from machines that far surpass a legion of Einsteins.
      Do please fasten your seat belts .
      Good book on this : Martin Ford’s ” Rise Of The Robots: Technology And The Threat Of A Jobless Future”
      Eminently readable and a very optimistic view of that nearer-than-you-think future.
      ” The future ain’t what it used to be ” : Yogi Berra

      • bjmack

        Good to know we’re from the same generation John. Regarding computers and taking over us humans, it’s already here pal so just like watching Roy Rodgers in the fifties, get used to it! Press 1 to respond…

  • PandaBear

    question for the Cubans: why Google, why not, say, Chinese internet / search provider, Baidu, etc. Questions for Google: Google publicly pulled out the Chinese market due to government censorship, etc, why entering to Cuba?

    • Jack England

      cuba dont censor stuff, just been there you can go on what you like

  • lpress

    The releases I have read are unclear on a key point — are they providing 70 mbps speed to each user or 70 mbps, shared by all users? Regardless, think of what else they could provide if allowed to:
    http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2016/03/the-hotspot-when-it-opened-last-march.html

  • John Goodrich

    With Ray Kurzweil , the noted futurist as chief of engineering at Google, they are putting their mon ey into driverless cars ( will replace 1 in 3 jobs for men in the U.S. in about ten years . Toyota announced that autonomous braking systems will be standard in all their vehicles very shortly .
    Google is also invested in life extension research based on Kurzweil’s usually correct predictions of the technological future , in which lives of hundreds of years will be probable after the mid-century point and after which AI has advanced beyond anything any futurologist is willing to guess at.
    And yes, Cuba and the entire world will be well served by what is coming.
    The not-so-distant future is far, far better than you think. .

  • John Q

    The article says 70x faster than current speeds and not 70 mbps. In any event, high speed Internet is not cheap and certainly not free. Everyone needs to keep in mind that the bill has to be paid, first by those who invest in the infrastructure to make it happen and then by those who consume the product and remember that Internet access is a product. If the Cuban government did not want people to have Internet access the fact that Goggle is interested in providing it would make no difference, but since the Cuban government obviously does not have any objection to the public having Internet, then the question remains the same…who will pay for it? Will the Cuban government spend money on general Internet access for the public instead of directing the connectivity towards hospitals, universities, weather monitoring and environmental science. Will Google pay for everything and then also donate the computers and smartphones? Will this result in a generation of people who sit like zombies in front ot the computer or smartphone instead of thinking about and dealing with much more important issues? A lot of us in the US feel that unlimited Internet has been problematic in terms of staying focused on the important things that determine our future. Nothing is free

  • Griffin

    The Google project with the artist, Kcho, is not anything to get too excited about. Setting up a small computer lab in the studio of an artist with strong connections to the Castro regime is not a sign that Cuba is opening up to the world wide web. It is a sign to Cubans that if they want internet access it will be on the Castro’s terms or nothing.