Google this week announced that it is working to bring high-speed internet to Cuba, one of the world’s least-connected countries. In a blog post published Monday, the company said it is bringing Chromebooks, Cardboard virtual reality kits, and other Google products to the Museo Orgánico Romerillo in Havana, where they will be connected to an internet network operated by the government-owned carrier ETECSA. Google says it is also looking into other ways to expand and improve internet access across the island, though its efforts are “at early stages.”
This week’s announcement coincides with President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba, the first by a sitting US president in nearly 90 years. Internet access in Cuba has long been extremely limited and prohibitively expensive, with only five percent of Cuban households having regular access to the web.
The Cuban government has signaled a willingness to expand internet access in recent months, after Havana and Washington moved to normalize diplomatic relations in 2014. The country’s first free, public WiFi hotspot opened at a Havana cafe last year, and ETECSA last month announced plans to launch a broadband pilot program for homes, bars, and restaurants in some Havana neighborhoods.
US tech companies like Netflix and Airbnb have also expanded to the island within the last year, taking advantage of eased restrictions on travel and business. This week, Airbnb announced that its Cuban listings will be available for all travelers as of April 2nd (they were previously limited to American users), while US hotel company Starwood Resorts announced a deal to refurbish and manage two Havana hotels. In June, Politico reported that Google had made a proposal to improve internet access in Cuba.
By Amar Toor