HAVANA – Google and Cuba presented on Thursday an agreement that envisions the direct interconnection of their respective networks to improve internet access on the island.
The Memorandum of Understanding signed by executives of the US technology giant and Cuban state telecommunications company Etecsa lays the basis for the negotiation of a subsequent service agreement enabling the interchange of internet traffic between the Cuba and Google networks, a practice known as “peering.”
There is no timeframe for the interconnection, which will be implemented when technical conditions permit, according to a brief statement released during the signing ceremony.
“We are excited to have reached this memorandum for the benefit of internet users here in Cuba,” Google Cuba chief Brett Perlmutter said, adding that his company and Etecsa created a joint working group of engineers to review alternatives for achieving direct interconnection.
Luis Adolfo Iglesias, Etecsa’s vice president for investment, said that the initiative would allow “more efficient use of our international internet capabilities.”
The peering project will remain on hold until Cuba installs a second undersea fiber-optic cable. The single existing cable, which links the island to Venezuela, is already operating at maximum capacity.
Thursday’s signing represents a deepening of Google’s commitment to the Communist-ruled island, despite the hostile shift in US policy toward Cuba since President Donald Trump took office.
Though the new US administration has tightened sanctions against the island, former President Barack Obama’s executive orders creating exceptions to the economic embargo remain in force, including one allowing American investment in Cuba’s telecommunications and connectivity sector.
Google was one of the first US companies to enter Cuba amid the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana launched in December 2014 by Obama and Raul Castro.
In December 2016, Etecsa and Google signed an agreement to launch the Google Global Cache service, which became operational in April 2017 “with good results,” according to both companies.
The program involved the installation of Google servers in Cuban territory to provide users with faster downloads of popular content such as YouTube videos.
The tech behemoth was also part of the first face-to-face encounter of new Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel with an official delegation from the United States.
Last June, Diaz-Canel received Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Eric Schmidt, former executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet Inc.
The Cuban leader met again with top executives of Google and other tech companies during a trip to New York for the start of the United Nations General Assembly session.
The island, one of the most disconnected countries in the world until recently, is immersed in a process of computerization and access to the internet expanded dramatically last December with Etecsa’s launch of 3G service, which came three years after the company began creating public Wi-Fi zones across the island.