Is Cuba On the Verge of a Technology Revolution?
By Robert Schoon (firstname.lastname@example.org)First Posted: Mar 23, 2015
03:50 AM EDT
Last week, Cuba got its first free, public WiFi hub. But as significant
as that is for the formerly hermetic island nation that's in the process
of normalizing relations with the U.S. and others, it may just be the
beginning of a much larger coming technology revolution in the country.
Early Cautious Stages
The free public WiFi hub in Cuba, however, wasn't exactly the
government's initiative. It exists courtesy of Kcho, a famed Cuban
artist who set up a modest three-megabit connection at his cultural
center, as we previously reported.
That Cuba allowed the relatively decent connection with the outside
world to persist is definitely progress, as ComputerWorld noted that
heretofore, the Cuban government restricted official Internet access for
select purposes and, for general use, to the total of about five percent
of the population that can afford to pay $4.50 per hour for online
access through the state-run and content-filtered Internet cafes that
were set up only a couple of years ago.
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And the political normalization between Cuba and the U.S. appears to be
a slow process. As The Atlantic noted, despite the public attention
given to President Obama and Raul Castro's careful advances, the U.S.
government still currently enforces a trade embargo on the country.
But despite the cautious pace of policy, easing economic sanctions has
whetted investors' appetite and set their sites on the island nation,
especially when it comes to technology.
Challenges and Opportunities:
Cuba's Undeveloped Infrastructure
Besides the political process, Cuba faces several practical challenges
when it comes to investing in and developing Internet technology in the
country. For one, there's the physical infrastructure -- outdated
electrical grids, inadequate for sustaining growth in technology need to
be replaced, and the same goes for the telephone grid and (nearly)
nonexistent wireless network.
And that's not even to mention Cuba's telecommunications connection with
the outside -- essentially an old coaxial cable that runs underwater to
Jamaica and the wider world.
Such a huge lack of physical infrastructure means development of an
Internet-powered economy will come slowly, in fits and starts. But it
also means something close to a blank slate for investors.
As venture capitalist and co-founder of startup networking organization
Mindchemy Ramphis Castro recently put it in his essay for Re/Code,
Seeding a Silicon Valley in Cuba, the island nation's dearth of almost
all things IT "makes it especially exciting to be a venture capitalist
pondering the possibilities for funding companies in Cuba today and
"If VCs, particularly angel investors, can become involved soon, they
will be getting in not at the proverbial ground floor but while the
blueprints are being drafted."
Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of tech industry trade group CompTIA,
shared a similar excitement with ComputerWorld for the
once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity an open Cuba could present:
"Markets like Cuba, which will require a wholesale construction of new
infrastructure, don't come along often, if ever," said Thibodeaux. "The
flood of companies lining up to get in should be quite substantial."
Such companies, early on, would likely be core IT firms from the U.S.,
such as AT&T, HP, Verizon and Cisco, which would develop the larger
infrastructure; the basics required for any further IT-based economic
A New, Untapped Market
Assuming a continued, relatively smooth political evolution -- which is
still an assumption -- after the infrastructure is in place, the human
capital and still untapped market potential inherent in Cuba is equally
attractive to the tech industry.
IT education would be an immediate priority, as "near-sourcing" services
for technology and business would likely be the first steps for industry
investment in the country, along with all of the technology aspects
associated with modern tourism.
And while technology spending market data for Cuba is nonexistent, a
population of about 11 million, mixed with a "real hunger for
technology" in the population -- according to U.C. Berkeley Center for
Latin American Studies chairman Harley Shaiken, also speaking to
ComputerWorld -- would inevitably lead to an incredibly high growth rate
for the PC and mobile device market, after initial jobs based on the new
IT economy raised incomes to a point where more than the current 10
percent who own mobile phones can afford to buy consumer tech.
Still a Long, Tricky Road
Don't expect Cuba to become the next Silicon Valley just yet. While the
Cuban government is appealing for more investment by international
companies, and businesses are chomping at the bit, economic development
from essentially scratch takes time. And that's assuming that the
political climate in both the U.S. and Cuba stays stable, which is not a
But progress has been made, and even in the early opening stages, Cuba
is now on Silicon Valley's map -- not nearly the final frontier of, or
so far even a certainty for the next generation of tech growth -- but
more as an undiscovered country worth exploring, now that for the first
time in decades, economic first contact has been established with an
official political nemesis.
Source: Is Cuba On the Verge of a Technology Revolution? : US News :
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