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Tags: cuba | internet | rubio | access | bipartisan | balloon

Expanding Internet Access for Cubans Difficult but Has Bipartisan Support

Expanding Internet Access for Cubans Difficult but Has Bipartisan Support
A man holds a sign that reads "Long live the Cuban revolution" during a protest against the government of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Havana, on July 11, 2021. (Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty)

By    |   Thursday, 18 November 2021 12:40 PM EST

Lawmakers and U.S. officials are proposing various strategies to expand internet access to Cuba amid pro-democracy protests on the island.

Florida Republicans, including Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, and Reps. Carlos Gimenez, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Maria Elvira Salazar, are urging the U.S. government to provide internet through balloons or from the U.S. Navy base in Guantánamo Bay.

Since the Cuban government temporarily shut down the internet after July 11 protests on the island, the Biden administration has assembled experts from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Security Council, the White House Office of Science and Technology, and the Federal Communications Commission to study the issue.

The Open Technology Fund is a nonprofit that works to advance internet freedom in repressive environments around the world with the funding of new research and technologies.

It sponsors Psiphon, a free open-source internet censorship circumvention tool that has been downloaded by more than 150 million users.

Democrat Rep. Val Demings of Florida is working on legislation that would expand Congress’ ability to fund technologies like Psiphon quickly, without needing to route money through the State Department that is typically not spent for months.

"During the protest in July, Psiphon enabled over 2.8 million users to connect to the uncensored internet, allowing them to share their stories on social media and messaging apps," Psiphon CEO Michael Hull said.

Expanding government funding for the Open Technology Fund has bipartisan support. Last year, Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul authored legislation that would put the fund under the wing of the U.S Agency for Global Media, which broadcasts government-sponsored programming like TV Martí.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said the Open Technology Fund "provided critical digital security support to Belarusian civil society groups" after a government crackdown in 2020. So far, President Joe Biden has not referenced the latest crackdown in public appearances, and Republicans urged him to speak with Cuban Americans in Miami.

Another protest march was planned in Cuba on Nov. 15, but the Cuban government prevented it from taking place, with security forces surrounding the houses of dissidents, The New York Times reports.

Although Cuba only introduced mobile data in 2018, over 4 million Cubans now go online through their smartphones and millions of Cubans use Facebook, The Guardian reports.

Internet firewalls supported by Chinese and Russian technology thwart communication, particularly in areas where protests have occurred or may take place.

The administration considered using Naval Station Guantánamo Bay as a potential base for tools that could expand internet access, McClatchy reports. 

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Lawmakers and U.S. officials are proposing various strategies to expand internet access to Cuba amid pro-democracy protests on the island.Florida Republicans, including Sens. Marco Rubio, Rick Scott and Reps. Carlos Gimenez, Mario Diaz-Balart and Maria Elvira Salazar, are...
cuba, internet, rubio, access, bipartisan, balloon
Thursday, 18 November 2021 12:40 PM
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