sábado, 27 de enero de 2018

What’s behind Trump’s new “Cuba Internet Task Force”?

Marcel Hatch, 26 January 2018

Fact: Cuba has the lowest internet access in Latin America, and one of the most expensive to access.

Fact: Cuba's Nauta home service does not block any websites. However, there are thousands of sites in the United States that block Cuban access to their pages because of the U.S. blockade. Nearly all U.S. companies engaged in online commerce, 99% of financial institutions, many U.S. state and federal government agencies, and NGOs block Cubans from accessing their sites.

Fact: Technological impediments such as slow connection speeds and high costs are likewise a problem resulting from the U.S. blockade. Equipment and materials needed to upgrade the island internet infrastructure is often made in the States or controlled by the U.S. and can only be sent to Cuba with U.S. government approval. When this technology is available from another country and exported to Cuba, that country faces harsh reprisals and penalties from the U.S.

Every Cuban wants and needs more access to less expensive internet. It is a top national priority. There is a lot of catching up to do and hurdles to overcome. Yet, Cuba exceeded all countries in grow rates in two categories last year: more than 2.7 million new users (365 percent compared to 2016), and 2.6 million people used their cell phones to access social networks (385 percent increase).

High costs are continuing to decrease, and ETECSA, the national telephone and internet provider, steadily rolls out better options and increased speeds.

And, yes, everyone wishes this could happen faster!

But at what cost? And why is a "Cuba Internet Task Force" happening in Washington when Cuba already has tens of thousands tasking away this problem already?

Are Trump and Rubio merely looking for a new hot-button issue to vilify Cuba since their "sonic attack" fairy tale was exposed as a sham? Yup. But there more to this than Cold War grandstanding.

The political script for this current anti-Cuba plot was the lead for a Miami Herald story on January 23: "The Donald Trump administration wants more Cubans to be connected and obtain access to information not controlled by the Castro government."

That is going to be a hard sell to the American people who know Trump's real position on Internet Freedoms.

Trump + Internet Freedom is an anathema. His Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to abolish net neutrality in mid-December 2017. Trump appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pap, former media giant Verizon legal counsel, described the process of ending net neutrality as "fun and cool." Trump's been slashing internet freedoms from the day he took office. On April 2, 2017, he signed a bill releasing internet service providers like Verizon and AT&T from having to protect consumer data. On September 15, 2017, Trump proposed to "cut off" the internet after the London Tube Bombing to prevent "ISIS from gaining recruits[!]"

At the heart of Trump and Rubio's "Cuba Internet Task Force" initiative is this: advancing the interests of giant U.S. telecoms to make inroads into Cuba's communications infrastructure with the objectives of profit and control.

Comments made by Daniel Sepúlveda, former U.S. point man on Cuba telecom policy in a Miami Herald television interview help clarify. "Everywhere in the world where communications have been deployed widely, it has been done… through an attractive environment of foreign direct investment, through joint ventures, particularly in the wireless sector, and investments in infrastructures." He concluded by saying, "[Cuba] needs a [Miami-Havana] cable… in case something happens to the cable [from Venezuela]."

But Caribbean Basin is a spider web of high-speed undersea telecommunications cables connecting all the island and coastal nations. The U.S. blocks Cuba from joining this network.

So islanders must decide. Slower reliable internet that will improve and catch up over time, or a single source high-speed internet cable owned by U.S. companies and licensed by Washington that could be capriciously "cut off" at the whim of a hostile U.S. president?

Trump woke up on the morning of September 29, 2017, and kicked most of the Cuba Embassy staff out of Washington and cut U.S. Embassy staff in Havana to bare bones. The same day he posted a childish horror-flick themed Travel Warning on his State Department website to scare off Americans from visiting Cuba, and to hurt the island economy. So cutting off internet to Cuba would be a no-brainer for this impulsive president.

The first meeting of the Task Force happens on February 7, at which time its members will make their debut. There will be more than a few representatives of the profit thirty mega-coms warming seats, together with opportunist lawmakers posturing for disgruntled Cuban expatriates in South Florida.

The "Task Force" will most graciously offer a "free" Miami-Havana undersea cable and "free" internet infrastructure stuff but without disclosing the fine print. Then Cuba will most judiciously decline. Then Trump and Rubio will label Cubans as ingrates and charge the island government with internet totalitarianism. But we'll still have not-for-profit internet built by Cubans with help from nations not bent on the island's demise, owned by the people, and not easily wrested from them.


Marcel Hatch lives and works in Havana, and is internet dependent.

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