Verizon Wireless will soon start offering cellular roaming services in Cuba as the thaw in relations between the United States and the Communist island nation continues to develop.
The new roaming capabilities arrive about a month after the U.S. officially reopened its embassy in Havana, through Verizon's Pay-As-You-Go International Travel calling plan options, the company said in a Sept. 17 announcement. Verizon claims that it is the first U.S. mobile carrier to offer roaming in Cuba. The United States and Cuba dropped diplomatic relations in 1961 during the Cold War after Fidel Castro came to power.
"Our customers are citizens of the world, and we want them to seamlessly enjoy a great Verizon experience wherever they travel," Javier Farfan, vice president of cultural and segment marketing for Verizon, said in a statement. "By offering international services while traveling in Cuba, we are making it simple and easy for our customers to stay connected wherever and whenever they choose."
Under the Pay-As-You-Go plan, Verizon customers can add the service to their accounts and make voice calls in Cuba for $2.99 per minute. Data use is billed at $2.05 per megabyte and standard international text messaging rates will apply.
At this point, the services are not inexpensive, but they will allow U.S. travelers in Cuba to communicate legally and simply while they are visiting the country.
Communications between the United States and Cuba have been improving in recent months as the long U.S. trade embargo of Cuba, which began in 1962, has been slowly thawing.
In June, competitor Sprint added a "Sprint Cuba 20 Plus" calling plan to allow customers to make direct calls to Cuba. The Sprint Cuba 20 Plus plans offer 20 minutes of international calling to Cuba per month for $10 (50 cents per minute), while additional minutes can be purchased for 70 cents per minute.
In March, Cuba's state telecom service, Etecsa, approved the start up of Cuba's first public, open WiFi services, which began recently in Havana's central cultural center building. That means that, for the first time, Cubans can now have a place where they can have free, open use of the Internet, even though it will sometimes be slow and spotty, depending on user load and other conditions, according to an earlier eWEEK report. The service is being provided due to famed artist Kcho, who organized the effort at his own expense to benefit his local community.
In August 2014, Google made its Chrome Web browser available for use in Cuba, bringing it to the residents of an island where Internet access can be difficult to find and afford, and where free communications is not guaranteed by their government. Censorship on the Internet by the government is a fact of life in Cuba.
Cuba, which is approximately 90 miles off the southeastern coast of Florida, has a patchwork of old and beautiful cities and towns, throwback American vehicles that date back to the 1950s, a proud and rugged population, and a long legacy of government control, Communism and economic stagnation.