Google just became the first foreign internet company to launch in Cuba

Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Google‘s servers in Cuba went live on Wednesday, making the internet giant the first foreign internet company to host content within the long cut-off country.

The servers are part of Google’s global network of caching servers, called GGC nodes, the servers work by storing popular content — like a viral YouTube video — on a local server. Instead of having to travel the long distance through a submarine cable, which currently connects Cuba to the internet through Venezuela, Cubans will now be able to access content through the nearest Google server in their country.

“I think this will be very noticeable for Cubans,” said Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at Dyn, a global internet monitoring company. “The internet in Cuba will still be a painfully slow process. This is just another somewhat rare step forward. For Google services, which will be hosted in country, it will be a milestone.”

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Despite hopes that Cuba would begin opening up its internet access following the re-establishment of diplomatic between the US and Cuba in 2015, Cuba still has the lowest level of internet connectivity in the western hemisphere. For most Cubans, the internet can only be accessed through 240 public access wi-fi spots dotted around the country. An hour of internet access costs roughly $1.50, which for Cubans earning the country’s average wage of $25 a month, can be prohibitively expensive.

Cuba’s State Telecommunications company, Etecsa, recently begun running a pilot program to install internet connections in 2,000 homes throughout the country, but once the pilot is over the service will cost around $15 for 30 hours of internet at a slow speed of 128 kilobytes per second — a similarly off-putting price for most Cubans.

Google acknowledges that the deal won’t do much to increase internet access for the average person in Cuba. In a blog post published last December to mark the signing of the deal between Cuba and the tech giant, Google executives wrote, “Cubans who already have access to the internet and want to use our services can expect to see an improvement in terms of quality of service and reduced latency for cached content.”

Madory, however, said that it appeared that Google was rolling out the change slowly. When he tested the service Wednesday morning using a server in Cuba he could access remotely, he was still being directed to Google services outside the country. “I can see the server is there and I can interact with it, but Cubans are not yet getting automatically connected to it.”

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