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Could Cuba become a new telecom mecca?

If Cuba's government allows it, the country's 11.5 million citizens may soon have greater access to U.S. tech trappings—including high-speed networks and satellite television and radio—thanks to Obama administration plans to ease restrictions that bar U.S. telecom providers from setting up shop there.

President Obama earlier this week directed the secretaries of State, Treasury and Commerce to take the steps required to authorize U.S. telecommunications network providers to cut deals to establish fiber-optic cable and satellite links between the U.S. and Cuba. Such a move has been a no-no since the Kennedy administration imposed stiff restrictions barring Americans from doing business with Cuba. The policy switch would also allow U.S. and Cuban telecoms to pen roaming service agreements—and satellite radio and TV providers in both countries to cut service deals.

The sticking point is whether the Cuban government would sign off on such moves.

"The Cuban government could stop this," Dan Restrepo, a senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council, acknowledged during a White House press conference earlier this week. He noted that the U.S. about-face outs the responsibility for improved communications and information access in Cuba squarely in the hands of Raul Castro (who took over for brother Fidel when he stepped down in February 2008). "If anyone is standing in the way of the Cuban people getting information it is the Cuban government," Restrepo said, "and it is not some outside technical problem that can be pointed to."

The changes aren't likely to prompt a flood of new sales or investments in Cuba because of the Cuban government's own restrictions on foreign media and broadcasters, Robert Muse, a lawyer in Washington specializing in Cuban trade issues, told Bloomberg.com. Others point out that doing business with Cuba opens up a much-needed new market for U.S. telecom firms, even if this means challenging Venezuela's dominant position as a provider of these services to Cuba, The Washington Post reports.

Image ©iStockphoto.com/ Duncan Walker

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