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Tuesday, 23 May 2017

How Cuba's growing internet is fuelling new businesses


As the internet becomes more widespread in Cuba, online start-ups are emerging. But the problems many of the companies hope to address are also a reminder of how far the island has to go.
Bernardo Romero Gonzalez, a 33-year-old software engineer from Cuba, launched his new business this month: a website where people can order island-made products such as soap, bouquets of flowers and cakes for home delivery.
"It's like Amazon for Cuba, but with a difference," he told an audience of New York techies at a conference this month.
The summary was a classic start-up pitch, but it also underscored the obstacles when it comes to starting an online business in the Caribbean country.
Mr Gonzalez is counting on buyers from the Cuban diaspora, which already plays a role in the economy, sending money and other products to the island.
But the infrastructure doesn't exist for domestic buyers to sustain the market.

Growing internet

Internet access among Cuba's 11.2 million people is growing.
Between 2013 and 2015, the share of the Cuban population using the internet jumped from about a quarter to more than 35%, according to estimates from the International Telecommunications Union.
The growing market has helped draw the attention of internet giants, such as Airbnb, Netflix and Google, which installed servers on the island and started hosting data there last month.
The rise is also fuelling activity among local entrepreneurs, who are launching domestic versions of sites such as the crowd-review business directory Yelp.
But there's a long way to go.

'Third world conditions'

Less than 6% of Cuban households had internet access at home in 2015, one of the lowest rates in the western hemisphere, according to the ITU. (In the UK, that figure tops 91%.)
Wi-fi hotspots in parks and other public places operated by the state-run telecom company remain the primary way to log on.
Service at the hotspots is often slow, expensive and selective, with the government restricting access to the full range of internet sites.
The constraints are shaping the emerging Cuban start-ups.
At this month's TechCrunch conference in New York, Mr Gonzalez shared a stage with Kewelta, a firm focusing on advertising within decentralised online and offline networks, and Knales, which provides updates on weather, news and other events via text messages and phone calls.
Knales co-founder Diana Elianne Benitez Perera told the audience that "Cubans are disrupters by definition. We always find the way to have first world conditions with third world conditions."

'Change in the air'

The government in recent years has taken some steps to boost internet access, increasing wi-fi hotspots in parks and other places, lowering prices and experimenting with home installations.
The measures come amid broader economic changes in Cuba, after the Castro regime loosened rules for private enterprise and the Obama administration eased the US embargo, unleashing large numbers of US travellers.

Source By BBC.COM
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