14ymedio, Havana, 28 June 2014 – For two days several representatives of the giant Google, including its executive chairman, paid an official visit to Cuba. With the objective “to promote the virtues of a free and open Internet,” four well-known faces of the American company held meetings with the official sector and also with the alternative scene dedicated to technology and the digital world.
Jared Cohen, Brett Perlmutter, Dan Keyserling and Eric Schmidt – the latter Google’s executive chairman – met with young people at the polytechnic schools, and this Saturday they toured the University of Information Sciences (UCI). On Friday night they also contacted the editors and reporters of our digital daily 14ymedio.
The visit took months of preparation and was the first time a representative of Google had come to Havana to talk about technology and access to the Internet. In 2013, Eric Schmidt mentioned his desire to visit the Island in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. At that time he said he would like to visit the Island to promote the free flow of thought via the Internet and noted that Cuba was “at the top of the list” of his priorities.
During the official program, the visitors were able to see the desire of young people for more open access to the web. They also felt encouraged by the technological and computer science potential on the Island, although it is very limited right now because of problems with Internet connectivity.
In 2011, a fiber optic cable was installed between Cuba and Venezuela to facilitate access to the Internet. Three years after the cable installation was completed there is still no home access to the world wide web and one hour’s connection from a public place costs a third of a month’s salary.
The hope of many Cubans lies in the possibilities of connecting through Google’s balloon-based Project Loon, which will bring the Internet to several areas of the planet. However, the installation of these balloons must be approved and authorized by local authorities, a difficult hurdle in the case of Cuba.