U.S. senator, former Google CEO expect further Internet cooperation with Cuba

U.S. Senator Jeff Flake and Google's former CEO Eric Schmidt said Monday there is "hope" Cuba could have greater Internet connectivity in the near future, a sign that a deal between the American company and the island nation could be signed in the coming months.

At a press conference after meeting with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, Flake said exchanges with Cuban officials were positive and the island's leader fully understood the benefits of greater connectivity.

"Google has been very interested in connectivity and making sure that Cuba presents itself to the world rather than others presenting Cuba to the world," he said.

Flake, a Republican from the western state of Arizona, said despite setbacks in the last year due to the U.S. administration's new Cuba policy, he is still optimistic about resuming cooperation.

"We talked specifically about connectivity but also about the challenges that have come up. The rules have changed but Americans can still travel to Cuba and we want to emphasize that that is still easily accessible and safe," he added.

It was Diaz-Canel's first meeting with an official U.S. delegation since assuming the presidency in April.

Google already has an agreement with Cuba, signed in December 2016, to allow for easier access to data and improve the online experience for Cubans who use Google products.

"The Cuban government seems pleased with the relationship Google already has here and there is a level of trust that is needed for further cooperation," added Flake.

Schmidt said he believes the Cuban government understands the importance of providing greater Internet access to its citizens and they are working on it.

Schmidt indicated that even with the economic embargo in place, U.S. law allows connectivity and telecommunications cooperation.

"The benefits of the Internet to the world are extraordinary and it is important that Cubans have access to the Internet at the same level or even better than everyone else," he said.

Schmidt noted Cuba currently relies on a fiber optic cable link to Venezuela for its high-speed Internet access, and didn't dismiss a possible agreement that could connect the island to a U.S. cable.

"My impression is the Cuban side understands the importance of providing greater Internet access. The talent of its people will be seen globally with better connectivity," he stated.

According to Cuba's state telecommunications company ETECSA, there are 1,651 public Internet access sites in Cuba, including 673 Wi-Fi zones.

The high cost of connecting (1 U.S. dollar per hour) is still a problem, but Cubans increasingly prefer to inform themselves, interact with their loved ones and friends, and look up content related to their professional and individual needs through the Internet. (Xinhua)

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