VARADERO, Cuba, June 12 (Xinhua) -- Cuba is committed to expanding Internet access and information technology (IT) to speed up economic, social and cultural development, Communications Minister Maimir Mesa said on Tuesday.
At the opening of the Sixth Latin American Telecommunications Congress in Cuba's seaside resort of Varadero, about 150 kilometers east of Havana, Mesa said the economic impact of these technologies, particularly the Internet, will contribute to the nation's development, productivity and employment.
"Our development plan is closely linked to telecommunications, effective government and social integration," said Mesa.
Some 4.5 million Cubans are now connected to the Internet, following three years of exponential growth in the infrastructure needed.
"Access to the Internet is provided at more than 1,500 public and residential locations where the infrastructure allows it and will soon be generalized via mobile phones with 3G and 4G technology," said Mesa.
"An increase of 20 percent per year in mobile technology will allow it to become the most popular way to access the Internet in Cuba," he said.
The challenge to expanding telecommunications infrastructure remains the ongoing U.S. trade embargo and Cuba's economic limitations, said the Cuban minister.
Still, "investment in technological infrastructure has increased in recent years, as we work to improve access, prices, affordability, and the use of IT by the population," Mesa said.
According to local authorities, there are currently 1,651 public Internet access sites in Cuba, 673 of them WiFi hotspots, and more than 28,000 users with home Internet service known as Nauta Hogar.
The high cost of connection (one U.S. dollar per hour) is still a problem, but Cubans are willing to make the sacrifice to inform themselves, interact with their loved ones and friends, and research content related to their professional and individual needs.
In February 2017, Cuba's parliament approved a comprehensive policy to increase Internet access in a country that until recently had one of the lowest penetration rates in Latin America.
The Latin American Telecommunications Congress has become a platform to promote exchanges and cooperation in the sector at the regional level, said Mesa.
The forum strengthens "public policies that promote the development of information technology in Latin America's digital ecosystem," he said.