In a move to reach out the Cuban people, the White House on Monday announced a series of changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba, including the authorization of greater telecommunications links to the communist country.
"This will increase the means through which Cubans on the island can communicate with each other and with persons outside of Cuba," the White House said in a statement. "Cuban American connections to family in Cuba are not only a basic right in humanitarian terms, but also our best tool for helping to foster the beginnings of grassroots democracy on the island."
Under the new policy, U.S. telecommunications providers will be able to establish fiber-optic cable and satellite telecommunications facilities linking the U.S. and Cuba, as well as license to enter into and operate under roaming service agreements with Cuba's telecommunications providers. Additionally, U.S. satellite radio and satellite television service providers will be able to obtain a license to provide services to customers in Cuba.
Persons under U.S. jurisdiction will be allowed to activate and pay U.S. or third-country service providers for telecommunications, satellite radio, or satellite TV services provided to individuals in Cuba, save for certain senior Communist Party and Cuban government officials. People will also, under a license exception, be able to export to Cuba communications devices such assystems, computers, software, and satellite receivers.
The Obama administration's announcement continues the transition to more open communications between the United States and Cuba set in motion under the Bush administration. President Bush announced in 2008 that Americans could send cell phones to family members in Cuba. He also permitted faith-based organizations and nonprofit groups working with Cuba to provide computers and Internet access to the Cuban people.
Bush's actions came in response to Cuban President Raul Castro's decision to lift the ban prohibiting the use of cell phones by ordinary citizens in Cuba.
The change in policy could also make Cuba less reliant on Venezuela, another leftist country with icy U.S. relations. Even though it would have been more efficient to lay a new cable between Cuba and the U.S., Cuba in 2006 signed a deal with Venezuela to lay a new undersea fiber-optic cable between the two countries.