HAVANA: Cuba announced Sunday night that it is launching broadband Internet service in two Havana neighborhoods as a pilot project aimed at bringing home access to one of the world's least connected nations.
State telecommunications company ETECSA said it would allow Cubans in Old Havana, the colonial center that is one of the island's main tourist attractions, to order service through fiber optic connections operated with Chinese telecom operator Huawei.
Odalys Rodríguez del Toro, ETECSA director for Havana, told state media that the government would also begin allowing cafes, bars and restaurants to begin ordering broadband service.
Del Toro offered no timeline for the pilot project or rollout of broader access and said prices would be announced in the future.
Still, any fiber-optic home connections would be an important milestone in Cuba, where broadband home service is currently legal only for diplomats and employees of foreign companies who pay hundreds of dollars a month for Internet links that are a fraction of the average speed in other countries. Some Cuban citizens have dial-up home service or restricted mobile phone connections that allow access only to state-run email.
General public access to broadband Internet began only last year, with the opening of dozens of public WiFi spots that cost $2 an hour. That is about a tenth of the average monthly salary in Cuba.
Del Toro said ETECSA would open 30 more WiFi spots in Havana alone in 2016, which by itself would double the number of access points in Cuba. She did not say how many more were planned for other cities.
The United States has been pushing Cuba to show that it is improving conditions for its citizens as President Barack Obama loosens the half-century old US trade embargo on Cuba through a series of executive actions.
Obama hopes to travel to Cuba this year to celebrate his re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the island but has said he would visit only if he believed his presence would help improve the lives of ordinary Cubans by moving the island toward greater freedom.
US Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler traveled to Havana this month to meet with Cuban officials about increasing Cuba's connections to the Internet. Last week, the FCC gave US companies blanket permission to provide voice and data connections to Cuba, doing away the requirement for special FCC permission.