Google testing the waters in Cuba


By Nancy Scola

A Google executive is headed to Cuba this weekend to explore bringing better Internet access to the island, and the search giant has made a related proposal to the Cuban government, according to a State Department official. It’s the latest sign that U.S. tech companies are testing the seriousness of Cuba’s interest in opening up to outside investment after President Barack Obama’s announcement of a historic thaw in relations and the Raúl Castro-led government’s recent pledge to bring Internet access to all Cubans by 2020.

The Google executive, Brett Perlmutter, is a New York-based member of the company’s Google Ideas unit aimed at helping to solve the world’s biggest tech problems. He’s taking part in a five-day trip to Havana with about a dozen other U.S. business representatives and “will focus on helping the Cuban government think through their publicly-stated goal of improving Internet access,” a company spokesperson said.

The Cuba trip has been organized by the Council of the Americas, a 50-year-old trade group founded by David Rockefeller. The group will stay in Habana Vieja, Havana’s charming if crumbling historic section, and is scheduled to return Thursday. The visit coincides with the six-month anniversary of President Obama’s announcement of a thaw in relations with Cuba, including the loosening of sanctions that, said Obama, “have denied Cubans access to technology.”

Google declined to say much else about its work in Cuba. But a senior State Department official, speaking on background, said the search giant has made a proposal to the Cuban government. “We don’t know what they’ve proposed, but we do know they’ve proposed something,” the official said.

Obama’s December actions loosened considerably the restrictions on the export of telecommunications equipment to Cuba. And trade analysts say that, while there was an initial period of confusion over precisely what the new rules would allow, tech companies like Google now feel on fairly firm legal footing.

According to the State Department, other network infrastructure companies have expressed interest in helping to upgrade island’s 2G wireless coverage.

This won’t be the first trip by a Google executive to Cuba. Eric Schmidt, the company’s executive chairman, visited the island last summer. After that, Google began offering Cubans its lightweight Chrome Web browser.

Google Ideas, where Perlmutter works, is headed by Jared Cohen, a former State Department official who is co-author with Schimdt of the 2013 New York Times bestseller “The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business.”

There are smaller companies clamoring to engage in Cuba, too. The State Department official described a recent, well-attended meeting in northern Virginia where local executives asked eagerly about the new business landscape there. But the Cuban government, swamped with offers to talk and applications for visas to visit the island, appear to be prioritizing only the biggest fish.

“Cubans,” said the State Department official, “are thinking about large agreements: the AT&Ts, Verizons, and Googles of the world.”

The symbolism of helping to network Cuba, say those in the field, is enormous, even if the business opportunity is not. Cuba’s population is that of about Ohio, and the average salary is less than 30 dollars a month. But there’s status that comes with helping to connect a country that, despite sitting so close to the United States, has largely sat out the Internet era the U.S. has helped to lead.




Publicado el 16/06/2015 en Cuba, EEUU, Tecnología y etiquetado en , , , , , , , , , , , . Guarda el enlace permanente. Deja un comentario.


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