Google on Monday signed a deal with Cuba’s state-run telecommunications provider, bringing the Google Global Cache to the communist country. The deal won’t expand internet access in the communist country, but it will give Cubans who already have internet access faster connections to Google-branded content.
Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, was in Havana to sign the deal with Mayra Arevich Marin, president of state telecommunications monopoly ETECSA.
Currently, the Google servers closest to Cuba are in Venezuela. Under this new deal, the ETECSA can locally cache some of Google’s most popular high bandwidth content, such as YouTube videos.
“This means that Cubans who already have internet access and want to use our services will see an improvement in terms of its quality and reduced latency for cached content,” Google explained in a blog post.
The agreement comes two years after President Obama began the historic process of normalizing US relations with Cuba — a process that could be halted or rolled back under the Trump administration.
A number of other companies have inked deals with the Cuban government this year, ahead of the US political transition. For instance, both AT&T and T-Mobile announced partnerships with ETECSA to provide customers with talk, text, and data while visiting the island.
While Google’s deal with ETECSA will give Cubans quicker access to some Google content, Cuban internet access in general remains significantly limited. As of 2014, just 3.4 percent of Cubans had Internet at home, according to the Americas Society/ Council of the Americas, a pair of not-for-profit organizations. Overall, just 25.7 percent of the Cuban population was using the internet in 2014.
Earlier this year, President Obama said that Google had plans to bring greater wi-fi and broadband access to Cuba. Google on Monday had no comment on that.
In mid-2014, before President Obama announced thawed relations with Cuba, Schmidt and other Google representatives visited the nation “with the goal of promoting a free and open Internet.” In that same spirit, Schmidt has also visited North Korea.