Internet giant Google has switched on its servers in Cuba, becoming the first foreign company to host content on the communist island.
The servers are part of Google’s GGC nodes, a global network of caching servers that store content locally. Cubans will now be able to access content like YouTube videos through these local Google servers, instead of it having to travel through a submarine cable from Venezuela, which will greatly increase loading speeds.
“It is a milestone as this is the first time an outside internet company has hosted anything in Cuba,” said Doug Madory, director of Dyn Research, the company that announced the news. “I think this will be very noticeable for Cubans.”
The Silicon Valley firm made its first foray into Cuba in 2014 when the U.S. relaxed its trade embargo with the nation. The company first offered free access to its Google Play and Google Analytics platforms, before setting up an online technology center in Havana in 2016, which offered free internet service at nearly 70 times faster than the previous speeds available on the island.
Internet access is still limited and expensive in Cuba, even after the United States lifted most of its sanctions with the country. Some estimates say as little as 5% of people have internet at home, because most of them are not granted permission to do so.
Resident rely on cafes, hotels, some places of work, education facilities, and any one of the 240 public Wi-Fi hotspots to surf the web.
Public hotspots cost US$1.50 per hour, while internet cafes charge around US$4.50, which is too expensive for many Cubans, particularly as the average monthly wage is around US$25.
Furthermore, lack of competition, repressive labor laws, and outdated infrastructure are the factors hindering internet penetration in the country.