Netflix is now streaming in Cuba

In the latest sign that Internet access is expanding — slowly — for Cubans, Netflix announced it has begun offering its movie-and-TV-subscription service to people in that country.

Starting Monday, people in Cuba with Internet connections and access to international payment methods — still a precious few in the population, and mostly state officials and the wealthy foreigners — will be able to subscribe to Netflix and watch a curated selection of popular movies and TV shows. Netflix-produced series, Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, have become wildly successful.

“We are delighted to finally be able to offer Netflix to the people of Cuba, connecting them with stories they will love from all over the world,” Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings said in a news release. “Cuba has great filmmakers and a robust arts culture and one day we hope to be able to bring their work to our global audience of over 57 million members.”

Los Gatos-based Netflix began offering its service in Latin America in 2011, the company said. It now has over 5 million members from the region.

Netflix’s release dovetails with the Obama Administration’s agenda, as freedom of the Internet — and freedom of speech in general — is among the President’s top priorities as the White House moves to improve relations with its southern neighbor. President Obama late last year ended a half-century of enmity with Cuba, lifting long-standing trade embargoes and normalizing relations between the two nations. Last week the Obama administration began to permit commercial shipments of devices like mobile phones and laptops, as well as related software and hardware, the Wall Street Journal reported.

For more than half a century, the Castro brothers’ regime has restricted telecommunications and the media for the Cuban people. As a result, only 5 to 26 percent of Cuba’s 11.3 million people have access to the Internet, according to a 2014 study by Washington-based advocacy group Freedom House. There are some ways to legally access the Internet in Cuba, but not in one’s home or on mobile devices, and not by connecting to the full World Wide Web. In June 2013, access to Cuba’s new high-speed internet was extended to citizens for the first time, albeit only from designated, censored “cyber points” at prices few can afford. Internet speeds are also dreadfully slow.

“Cuba has long ranked as one of the world’s most repressive environments for information and communication technologies,” according to the Freedom House. “High prices, exceptionally slow connectivity, and extensive government regulation have resulted in a pronounced lack of access to applications and services other than email. Most users can access only a government-controlled intranet rather than the global internet, with hourly connection costs amounting to 20 percent of the minimum monthly wage.”

Social media, political content and free press are also restricted.

But Netflix’s entrance into Cuba is a sign that, under this diplomatic thaw with the US, Internet access is improving. As credit and debit cards become more widely available, and speeds improve, not only Netflix but also other Internet services can begin to penetrate the country.

Image from House of Cards, an award-winning Netflix original series


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