Cuba looks to expand Internet access

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba wants to expand access to the Internet but has been held back by economic problems and bandwidth limitations, Cuban communications minister Ramiro Valdes said on Tuesday.

An employee of the state-run telephone company checks phone lines in downtown Havana June 12, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

Valdes, speaking at a computer exposition in Havana, said the situation was expected to improve when socialist ally Venezuela completes a 930-mile-long fiber optics line to the communist-run island next year.

He told reporters that “conceptually” the government has no problem with making the Internet widely available.

“The restrictions are technological and economical,” said Valdes.

Internet use in Cuba is limited mostly to government officials and academics, and comes to the island through a slow, costly satellite connection.

According to the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union, only 2.1 percent of the population has access to the Internet.

The Cuban government has blamed the United States for its lack of connectivity, saying the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against the island forbids it from linking to a nearby fiber optics line that stretches from Florida to Mexico.

The completion of the Venezuela fiber optics cable will make more, less expensive bandwidth available to Cuba, Valdes said.

Vice minister Boris Moreno said last week in an interview in state-run press that the Cuban government had no political qualms about allowing more Internet in Cuba, but would place some limits on its use.

“As happens in all the countries of the world, we’re not going to permit access to sites that stimulate terrorism and encourage subversion of the established order,” he said.

Reporting by Esteban Israel; editing by Jeff Franks and Vicki Allen