Telephone connections to and from Cuba have been a problem not only for Cuban citizens and their families living abroad, but also for companies trying to conduct normal business activities. Telephone connections have generally been difficult for two reasons. The high cost of telephone service to and from Cuba and the sub-standard connections, leave room for improvement. Calls to Cuba are one of the most expensive rates in the world. Surprisingly, it is cheaper to call countries such as China, India and Australia from the US than it is to call Cuba. There are several reasons at play here for the prohibitive costs.
Since the 1960s, there has been no direct line between the two nations and telephone calls have been passing through third countries such as Italy and Spain. The high price of telephone calls to and from Cuba was an effort by ETECSA to generate much needed foreign currency. Cuba placed a tax on telephone rates in response to a move in the 1990s by Washington to freeze the money that US telephone companies owed to Cuba for telephone service.
In March of this year, ETECSA (Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A.), Cuba’s only telephone company met with IDT Corp, a US based company and signed a deal to restore telephone communications. This was the first deal with Cuba to be signed by an American corporation after Obama’s efforts to normalize relations between the two countries.
When the actual improvements to the telecommunications infrastructure will begin is currently unknown. It is also not known whether this service will actually reduce the cost of telephone connections to and from Cuba. However, Bill Pereira, the Chief Executive Officer of IDT Telecom stated after the signing of the deal,
“We are very pleased to have reached this groundbreaking agreement with ETECSA. This is an important first step in the liberalization of telecommunications between the U.S. and Cuba… Ultimately, the agreement will help make it easier and more affordable for our customers to call friends and family in Cuba.”
At the present time, Cubans living abroad use phone companies such as Rebtel, Ezetop, Ding and Cuballame to reduce the cost of telephone connections to and from the Island. Calling cards were an option in the past, but these newer companies offer cheaper calling rates. By using VoiP technology (Voice over internet protocol), these companies charge less than the official rates for telephone calls. They also offer top up services which enable persons living abroad to top up the cell phones of Cubans living in Cuba. At various times throughout the year, ETECSA offers promotional deals allowing people to receive double bonus top ups to Cubacel prepaid phones in Cuba.