, HAVANA Dec 13 – Cuba signed a deal with Google Monday to enable faster access to content from the US tech giant on the communist island, where internet service is notoriously limited and slow.
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google parent company Alphabet, signed the deal in Havana alongside the head of Cuban state telecommunications company Etecsa, Mayra Arevich.
Under the deal, Cuba will gain access to a network called Google Global Cache, which stores content from Google sites such as Gmail and YouTube on local servers, accelerating users’ access, Google said in a statement.
“This agreement will enable users in Cuba to reduce access time for Google internet content, bringing better speed and quality,” Etecsa said.
No questions from journalists were allowed at the press conference announcing the deal. The signatories posed for photographs — Schmidt at one point posing alongside a large photo of late Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Cuba has one of the lowest internet access rates in the world.
Last year, just one-third of Cubans went online, according to official statistics.
The island has some 900 state-run internet cafes and 200 wifi hotspots. But connecting costs $2 an hour, a fortune in a country where the average monthly income is $29.
Only restricted professions such as journalists and doctors are allowed internet service at home.
The government has allowed Cubans to access some Google content since 2014, but connection times can be extremely slow.
Currently, all data arrives via fiber optic cable from Venezuela.
Expanding Cubans’ internet access was one of the stated goals of US President Barack Obama’s rapprochement with the island, announced in December 2014.
The Google deal comes as the historic thaw between the old Cold War foes faces an uncertain future under President-elect Donald Trump.
Trump, who takes office on January 20, has criticized Obama for not extracting more concessions from Cuba on democracy, human rights and the economy.