Obama relaxes restrictions on telco access to Cuban market

President Barack Obama eased restrictions on U.S. telecom and wireless service providers' access to the Cuban market yesterday as part of a wide-ranging relaxation of rules that had been aimed at isolating the Communist island nation. However, it is unclear what effect the new rules will have--and how the Cuban government will respond.

The new rules, which affect Verizon, AT&T and Sprint Nextel, change the way phone and data traffic can be routed. The companies are currently allowed to indirectly exchange phone and Internet traffic with Cuba. The new rules would lift that traffic-routing restriction, potentially providing the companies with easier access to serve the country directly or to enter into roaming agreements with operators on the island--if the Cuban government allows such access.

Sprint and Verizon Wireless declined to comment. AT&T said that it was studying the administration's proposal, but also declined to comment further.

Cheaper and easier communications with Cuba could be a major boon to the 1.5 million Americans who have relatives on the island, according to the Los Angeles Times. It also could stand as a windfall to those companies providing the service.

Interestingly, the Bush administration announced a policy last year that allowed Americans to mail cell phones to Cuba, but the effort faltered because the phones would often not work with local carriers' spectrum bands.

For more:
- see this article (sub. req.)
- see this article on the rules changes
- see the White House fact sheet

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