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US internet push in Cuba angers island nation's government

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

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WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — A US task force aiming to expand internet access in Cuba met Wednesday for the first time, drawing the Cuban government's ire.

Cuba which maintains control over almost all media there says the group's very existence is an attack on the sovereignty of the Communist state.

"Over the next year, the task force will examine technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access in Cuba with the goal of helping the Cuban people enjoy the free and unregulated flow of information," a State Department statement said.

The group formed one subcommittee to explore the role of media and freedom of information in Cuba, and another to analyze internet access there. They will make recommendations in approximately six months.

The initiative, backed by the Donald Trump administration, comes after Washington under Barack Obama restored full diplomatic ties with Havana in 2015.

Cuba on Wednesday sent a note to the top US diplomat in Havana, Lawrence Gumbiner, to voice "strong protest" against Washington's "desire to flagrantly violate Cuban sovereignty concerning national laws regulating the flow of information."

This "attempt to manipulate the internet ... for political and subversive purposes" is aimed at "altering or destabilising the constitutional order" in Cuba, it said.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert dubbed those allegations of subversion "preposterous." According to Cuban government figures, 40 per cent of the island's 11 million inhabitants had internet access in 2017.

Yet despite recent government efforts to increase wifi availability, Cuba remains mostly offline due to expensive access, limited home connections, and the lack of a network allowing online access to mobile devices.

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