Verizon First To Provide Roaming Services In Cuba, As Obama Plans To Relax Trade And Travel Restrictions

Verizon will be the first company offering its customers roaming wireless access in Cuba, reports The Globe and Mail. From next week, Verizon customers will be able to use the Verizon network cellphones to make calls, send messages and download data with their cellphones while traveling on Cuban soil.

The Verizon Pay-As-You-Go International Travel option is an existing service that will now incorporate Cuba, but the service doesn’t come cheap. Calls will cost $2.99 per minute, and data will cost $2.05 per megabyte. International messaging will remain at existing standard rates.

Javier Farfan, vice president of cultural and segment marketing for Verizon, said in a press release, “Our customers are citizens of the world, and we want them to enjoy seamlessly a great Verizon experience wherever they travel. By offering international services while traveling in Cuba, we are making it simple and easy for our customers to stay connected wherever and whenever they choose.”

This expansion of mobile communications service comes in the wake of a historic shift in political and economic relations between the United States and Cuba. In July, diplomatic ties between the two former cold war adversaries were formally restored after a 54-year period of hostility, when the United States officially reopened its embassy in Cuba. The Verizon announcement even came on the same day that Cuba sent its first ambassador to the White House since 1961.

Telecommunications technology and services were some of the first exemptions applied to a United States economic embargo after the two nations agreed on plans to reopen diplomatic relations last December.

The United States has made increased connectivity a priority in the rebuilding of its relationship with Cuba — online access in Cuba is highly limited with internet penetration estimated at a paltry five percent. This makes it one of the most disconnected and offline countries in the world.

A number of other deals have been announced in recent months, deals that will go some way towards establishing a communications infrastructure in Cuba. Boost Mobile, a subsidiary of Sprint Corp, introduced a prepaid plan for U.S. consumers wanting to make calls and send texts to Cuba in April, and in March, the United States based IDT Corp came to an agreement with ETECSA to provide direct international long-distance service.

It emerged Thursday that President Obama’s administration is drafting regulations to relax trade and travel restriction, according to Newsweek. The regulations will allow American companies to establish subsidiaries in Cuba, via joint ventures with Cuban firms and allow general licenses for ferries and cruise ships to port in Cuba rather than requiring them to apply for specific licenses.

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