President Barack Obama reported during his first address from Cuba on Monday, March 21 that increased internet access would be part of an improvement in American-Cuban relations.
The president mentioned internet access several times during the address, calling it a necessity for Cuba’s increased economic success. During an ABC News interview, released Sunday, March 20, Obama also revealed that Google will play a large role in bringing internet access to the island.
“We’ve already administratively loosened some of the embargo so that not only financial services and tourism but also information companies can start coming here,” Obama said during the ABC News interview. “And one of the things we’ll be announcing here is that Google has a deal to start setting up more WiFi access and broadband access on the island.”
Obama also announced on Monday, March 21 that United States broadband companies are no longer banned from increasing Cuba’s internet access.
The White House administration also authorized Airbnb, the popular lodging-rental company, to operate in Cuba on Sunday, March 20. Prior to the authorization, American travelers could only use Airbnb under certain conditions, including family visits, journalistic endeavors and humanitarian projects, according to the trade embargo between the United States and Cuba. Travelers can now use Airbnb to book stays at private residences rather than government-owned hotels, which are often run down with poor customer service.
Starwood Hotels published a deal to run three hotels before the White House expanded Airbnb to Cuba. Western Union also announced its plans to expand into Cuba.
Obama’s first trip to Cuba signified a shift for Cuba’s economy and tourism industry, especially with increased internet access. Only five percent of Cuba’s citizens have household internet access. Others rely on internet cafes for access, which can be expensive.
U.S. tech companies with increased presence in Cuba will probably bring more revenue to Cuba, which in turn will help provide job growth and increased education for the island nation.
However, there are some concerns about potential negative side effects, like increased economic and housing disparities from companies like Airbnb. While Airbnb helps middle class households earn extra money, the most successful hosts are the most wealthy, because they can afford to rent their homes out for days at a time.
According to a Harris poll survey, Millennials are interested in traveling to Cuba to volunteer and explore. About 49 percent of Millennial men and 43 percent of Millennial women are interested in traveling to Cuba.