Google and the Cuban government have signed a deal allowing the internet giant to provide faster access to its data by installing servers on the island that will store much of the company’s most popular content.
Storing Google data in Cuba eliminates the long distances that signals must travel from the island through Venezuela to the nearest Google server. Washington has no direct data link to the communist island.
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US has had virtually no economic ties with Cuba for more than five decades owing to Washington-imposed trade sanctions.
But hopes of better relations have been revived since 2015, when US President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc, signed the deal with Mayra Arevich Marin, president of state telecommunications monopoly ETECSA, on Monday.
The deal removes one of the many obstacles to a normal internet in Cuba, which suffers from some of the world’s most limited and expensive access.
But the move is not expected to help a significant number of Cubans to have internet access, at least in the short term.
Home connections remain illegal for most Cubans and the government charges the equivalent of a month’s average salary for 10 hours of access to public wi-fi spots with speeds frequently too slow to download files or watch streaming video.
The agreement does not affect Cuba’s antiquated communications infrastructure or broaden public access to the internet, but it could make Google websites such as YouTube or Gmail up to 10 times faster for users inside Cuba. Content hosted by other companies will not be affected.
Neither Google chairman Schmidt nor Cuban officials spoke to the press after the signing ceremony in Havana.
In a blog post, Marian Croak, Google’s vice president for access strategy and emerging markets, and Brett Perlmutter, head of strategy and operations for Google Cuba and the lead negotiator of the deal, said: “Cubans who already have access to the internet and want to use our services can expect to see an improvement in terms of quality of service and reduced latency for cached content.”
Cuban officials appear to be accelerating their approvals of deals with US companies in an attempt to build momentum behind US-Cuba normalisation before President-elect Donald Trump takes office next month.
The Google pact was announced less than a week after Cuba gave three US cruise companies permission to begin sailing to the island next year. Officials familiar with the negotiations say other deals, including one with General Electric, are in the works.
The US and Cuba have struck a series of bilateral deals on issues ranging from environmental protection to direct mail since the declaration of detente on December 2014, but business ties have failed to keep pace.
The Cuban government has blamed the US trade embargo on Cuba.
Many US businesses say Cuba has been moving on most proposals so slowly that some suspect the government has been deliberately limiting the development of economic ties.