Telecommunications in Cuba

The Economist reports on telecommunications in Cuba and increased accessibility as prices for network use decrease. The article explains that in an effort to improve communications in Cuba, now receiving calls from phones within the island will be free. Other changes are also being implemented. See full article below:

Cubans are not known for the brevity of their conversations. Unless, that is, they are speaking on a mobile phone. In a country where the average state salary languishes at around $20 a month, and daytime mobile charges are 45 cents a minute (paid by both the caller and the receiver), customers have a strong incentive to keep their conversations brief. Cubans have resorted to seeing their phones as mere fashion accessories.

But from February 1st, those who prefer to use their phone for its original purpose will be given some respite. The cost of using the only network on the island (run by the state-owned ETECSA) is falling. For the first time, receiving calls from phones within Cuba will be free. The price of a text message is being almost halved.

Since Raúl Castro, the president, first allowed Cubans to have their own cell phone lines—under his brother Fidel, only foreigners and some senior officials could do so—mobile use on the island has more than tripled. According to official figures, 1.2m Cubans, or about a tenth of the population, now have a mobile phone. But that is still a fraction of the levels achieved elsewhere in Latin America. ETECSA says it intends to reduce prices further, to reach its target of 2.4m subscribers by 2015. Last year it cut the cost of a line subscription by 80%.

Scores of foreign companies would like a slice of this market. But currently none are participating. In January 2011, the cash-strapped Cuban government surprised observers by arranging to buy out its remaining foreign partner in the business, Telecom Italia, for $706m. A few months later, several senior ETECSA executives were arrested as part of Mr Castro’s wide-ranging corruption investigations. It is not clear whether their arrest was directly connected with the deal.

Some hard-liners in the Castro government might feel a little uneasy at the prospect of giving millions more Cubans access to any sort of information technology. But they can probably sleep soundly, on two counts. Firstly, although a 3G system for mobile internet is in place across the island, Cuban cell phones are prevented from accessing it (only those roaming from foreign networks can do so). And according to one foreign executive, who was familiar with the project to install that network ten years ago, the government took its habitual precautions. “When the core switch for the network was purchased from Ericsson, the Cubans made absolutely sure they had every imaginable ‘snooping’ feature available”, he says.

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