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    Sen. Marco Rubio says Castros, not embargo, reason Cubans don’t have Internet

    Sen. Marco Rubio says Castros, not embargo, reason Cubans don’t have
    Internet
    BY LAUREN CARROLL AND STEVE CONTORNOPOLITIFACT
    12/26/2014 3:49 PM 12/26/2014 3:51 PM

    MOSTLY TRUE: Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, is right that the Cuban
    government has nearly complete control over the Internet, keeping
    millions of Cubans from getting access, says PolitiFact Florida. J.
    SCOTT APPLEWHITE AP
    Story
    Comments
    There’s a good chance most Cubans won’t be able to read this article.
    And the reason why — lack of Internet access — is a point of a
    contention between President Barack Obama and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

    Obama on Wednesday, Dec. 17 announced sweeping changes to the United
    States’ decades-old isolation policy against Cuba, promising renewed
    diplomatic relations and an easing of regulations on commerce. Obama
    said the drastic shift in approach to the Communist-controlled island
    would help bolster the Cuban people, who he said have suffered from
    America’s cold shoulder.

    “I believe in the free flow of information,” Obama said. “Unfortunately,
    our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has
    empowered individuals around the globe.”

    Rubio, a Florida Republican and a Cuban American, chastised Obama’s
    comments in an animated rebuttal.

    “The president said that the people of Cuba do not have access to
    advanced, 21st century modern technology for communications and
    telecommunications because of the U.S. embargo. That is false,” Rubio
    said. “The reason why they don’t have access to 21st century
    telecommunications — like smart phones, like access to the Internet — is
    because it is illegal in Cuba.”

    Obama’s statement wasn’t as full-throated as Rubio made it sound. And
    some of what Obama suggested is true, experts told us.

    That said, Rubio has the better part of the argument that Cuba’s
    restrictive policies loom large over the debate.

    Cuba’s restrictions

    Cuba has less access to the Internet than most countries in the world.
    It is the only country in the Western Hemisphere with an Internet access
    rating of “not free” by Freedom House, a human rights advocacy group.

    Citing the National Statistics Office in Cuba, Freedom House said about
    23 percent of Cubans have access to the Internet. But those numbers,
    while very low, are likely inflated: Many of those people have access
    only to a tightly controlled Cuban intranet that includes email and
    government-approved sites. Outside experts, Freedom House said, estimate
    only about 5 percent of people have access to the full World Wide Web.

    The government of Cuba maintains almost complete control over
    telecommunications industries in the country, and it uses a mix of
    repressive policies and price gouging to keep Cubans offline.
    Regulations essentially prohibit private Internet use in homes and it is
    illegal to access the Internet outside government-controlled methods. On
    top of that, the cost of even a basic computer is more than twice the
    average Cuban’s annual salary.

    Cubans who log on to the Internet do so via public, government-run
    access points. There, patrons deal with some of the slowest speeds in
    the world. And rates set by the government make it difficult for the
    average worker on a $20 weekly salary to consistently log on. Checking
    email costs $1.50 an hour. Access to the national intranet is $0.60 per
    hour, and international websites are $4.50 per hour, Freedom House said.

    Bloggers and dissenters are quickly shut down and, in many cases,
    imprisoned. Alan Gross, the imprisoned American contractor released by
    Cuba this week, was arrested for building telecommunications
    infrastructure on the island.

    As for smartphones, most mobile phones can send messages, even
    internationally, but cannot access the Internet. GPS and satellite
    capabilities are prohibited. An iPhone, if procured, would be a pretty
    dumb phone in Cuba.

    Cuban officials have recently indicated a potential shift in policy that
    could open the Internet to personal and mobile usage, but it’s also
    possible it will be limited to Cuba’s intranet and email.

    Such promises have been made before. Cuba installed a 1,600 kilometer
    fiber-optic cable between the island and Venezuela in 2011 with
    financial help from China (a project completed despite the U.S. embargo,
    it should be noted). It was supposed to increase speeds and access for
    Cubans. Actual advances have been modest.

    And it’s not as though the United States is the only country capable of
    supplying Cuba with telecommunications technology in today’s global
    economy. The regime has prioritized preventing political dissent over
    technological advancement. There’s no guarantee that will change if U.S.
    policy does.

    This is why Rubio is right in saying that the U.S. embargo is far from
    the only factor affecting access. Sure, Cuba is poor and has bad
    infrastructure, but there are poorer countries with better Internet
    access, said Larry Press, an information systems professor at California
    State University Dominguez Hills who writes a blog on Internet access in
    Cuba. When infrastructure improved in Cuba, access largely did not.

    “I think Rubio is closer to the truth than Obama,” Press said. “Both
    have a degree of truth, but the Cuban government’s fear of the Internet
    was a bigger hindrance than the embargo.”

    The embargo effect

    Rubio was not quite right, however, when he said that Obama’s comment
    was unequivocally false.

    Obama said that U.S. sanctions on Cuba “have denied Cubans access to
    technology.” This is true to a certain extent. Part of Cubans’ access
    problem has to do with the exorbitant cost of technology, relative to
    how poor the country is, and lifting those restrictions could help that
    problem.

    In 2009, Obama cracked the door open marginally for American
    telecommunications companies to operate in Cuba by allowing them to
    establish connectivity between Cuba and the United States, and letting
    satellite radio and television companies serve Cuban customers.
    Additionally, people could donate (but not sell) telecommunication
    devices like computers and phones to Cubans.

    The changes announced Dec. 17 further opened up the ability for U.S.
    companies to build telecommunications infrastructure in Cuba and it
    allows for the commercial sale of communication devices and software.

    Matt Borman, deputy assistant secretary of export administration, told
    PolitiFact that if American companies were able to compete with other
    foreign telecommunications suppliers in Cuba, there is an expectation
    that it would pressure the government to create more viable
    infrastructure. That could spur more Internet freedom. In a report
    published in 2010, the Brookings Institution made a similar argument.

    A of couple experts told us that Obama’s side carries weight because
    Castro has made an effort in recent years to ease some restrictions,
    such as lifting the ban on personal computers. (It may be hard to
    believe, but internet access in Cuba used to be even worse.) So the
    United States’ sanctions prevent Cubans from acquiring technology that
    is now legal, said Julia Sweig, an expert on Cuba and Latin America at
    the Council on Foreign Relations.

    Our ruling

    Rubio said that rather than the U.S. embargo, the reason why Cubans
    “don’t have access to 21st century telecommunications — like smart
    phones, like access to the Internet — is because it is illegal in Cuba.”

    “Illegal” is probably the wrong word. There are some ways to legally
    access the Internet in Cuba, but not in one’s home, or on mobile
    devices, and not by connecting to the full World Wide Web. Internet use
    is primarily restricted to government-run access points that are heavily
    monitored. The usage rates, set by the regime, are so expensive that it
    is cost prohibitive for most Cubans to log on. Political dissenters are
    barred from publishing online and are punished if they do. The end
    result is similar to full prohibition: Cuba has one of the lowest rates
    of Internet access in the world.

    The U.S. sanctions have played a role in limited availability of
    technology. However, Rubio is right that the Cuban government has nearly
    complete control over the Internet. That isn’t a result of sanctions on
    telecommunication business activity in Cuba. Even if the United States
    fully repeals its embargo, government control over Internet access could
    continue.

    We rate Rubio’s statement Mostly True.

    POLITIFACT
    The statement: “The reason why Cubans don’t have access to 21st century
    telecommunications — like smart phones, like access to the Internet — is
    because it is illegal in Cuba.”

    — Marco Rubio on Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 in a press conference.

    The ruling: “Illegal” is probably the wrong word. There are some ways to
    legally access the Internet in Cuba, but not in one’s home, or on mobile
    devices, and not by connecting to the full World Wide Web. Internet use
    is primarily restricted to government-run access points that are heavily
    monitored. The usage rates, set by the regime, are so expensive that it
    is cost prohibitive for most Cubans to log on. Political dissenters are
    barred from publishing online and are punished if they do. The end
    result is similar to full prohibition: Cuba has one of the lowest rates
    of Internet access in the world. The U.S. sanctions have played a role
    in limited availability of technology. However, Rubio is right that the
    Cuban government has nearly complete control over the Internet. That
    isn’t a result of sanctions on telecommunication business activity in Cuba.

    We rate this claim: Mostly True.

    Politifact Florida is a partnership between The Tampa Bay Times and the
    Miami Herald to check out truth in politics.

    Source: Sen. Marco Rubio says Castros, not embargo, reason Cubans don’t
    have Internet | The Miami Herald –
    http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article5013537.html