FCC Amends Exclusion List to Remove Cuba, Opens Doors for U.S. Telecoms
As the federal government has begun thawing its once-deeply frozen relationship with Cuba, opportunities for business and trade have arisen. Yet another door opened last weekend, as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officially dropped its telecom ban on Cuba.
On Friday last week, the FCC announced that it had ordered Cuba to be removed from its Exclusion List for International Section 214 Authorizations. Effectively, the order introduces Cuba to the fold of countries around the globe where telecommunications companies can quickly receive a standard international authorization to begin developing facilities and services.
Faster Go-Ahead for Telecoms
Known commonly as the Exclusion List, the U.S. government holds a federal registry that identifies countries that are not covered by the international Section 214 authority, a globally-based regulatory structure for telecommunications.
Before the Commission's order released on Friday, telecom providers would have to seek additional permissions from the FCC before providing services to Cuba.
"Cuba was the last remaining country on the Commission's Exclusion List," noted the FCC's news release.
"By removing Cuba from the Exclusion list, the Commission opens the door for U.S. telecom carriers to provide facilities-based telephone and Internet service to Cuba without separate approval from the Commission," the FCC stated.
"Specifically, this action allows carriers seeking new international Section 214 authority for facilities-based service to Cuba to receive such authority sooner, and permits carriers with existing global Section 214 authority to provide services between the United States and Cuba without additional authorization."
U.S. telecommunications companies will undoubtedly welcome the FCC's removing Cuba from its Exclusion List. AT&T, for example, has publicly requested such changes for months.
The company eventually filed a comment with the FCC in December 2015, arguing, "Carriers with global Section 214 authority may provide service today to all countries except Cuba," and noting that "providing the same treatment for service to Cuba by removing this country from the exclusion list would help... increase the flow of information to and from the Cuban people" -- a major objective of the Obama administration's late-2015 rapprochement with the hermetic country.
Accelerated Development in Cuba
The FCC's move did not come as a surprise, though. The Obama administration has been pushing to open Cuba to the West since late 2014, after five decades of chilly relations. And since October of 2015, the FCC has been going through the process of considering the action; after the State Department officially recommended the FCC remove Cuba from its exclusion list.
Cuba is a land of opportunity, a clean slate for new development, and an untapped market of millions -- especially young Cubans, who have demonstrated their propensity towards technology by setting up shadow Internet when the real thing wasn't available, even as the government considered such actions illegal and "counterrevolutionary."
"Cuba has long ranked as one of the world's most repressive environments for information and communication technologies," said to Internet advocacy group Freedom House on the long-suppressed potential of networking Cuba. "High prices, exceptionally slow connectivity, and extensive government regulation have resulted in a pronounced lack of access... Most users can access only a government-controlled intranet rather than the global internet, with hourly connection costs amounting to 20 percent of the minimum monthly wage."
Telecoms will be rearing to jump in, now that Cuba will be subject to the exact same regulations as any other country.
In fact, U.S. telecoms have already begun, even before the FCC's action: Verizon announced in September that it would be the first U.S. wireless company to provide roaming service in Cuba, which was actually months after T-Mobile and Sprint began competing with each other on call and text plans between the two former cold war enemies.
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