On February 7, the U.S.’ Cuba Internet Task Force (CITF) held its inaugural meeting in Washington, D.C., published its Charter and launched its website. As discussed in a prior post, this group burst onto the scene on January 23 with a State Department announcement of its creation “to promote the free and unregulated flow of information in Cuba” and expand “internet access and independent media in Cuba.”
Now we examine the CITF’s membership, inaugural meeting, Charter and website.
The CITF is chaired by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs John S. Creamer, a foreign service officer with a distinguished career of service in Latin America. Other members are officials of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which operates TV and Radio Marti; the Federal Communications Commission; the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration; the U.S. Agency for International Development; Freedom House; and the Information Technology Industry Council.
CITF Inaugural Meeting
Chair Creamer said estimates show internet penetration in Cuba is between 5 percent and 40 percent, with the higher figure including those who only can access government-run internet. He said the $1 per hour cost for wi-fi is onerous considering the average salary of roughly $30 per month. For internet access at home, Cubans must pay $17 to $80 per month, depending on speed, for only 30 hours of connectivity, Creamer said. He also claimed that Cuba’s government uses “filters and blocks websites in a bid to impede the Cuban people’s ability to criticize government institutions and policies.”
Tom Sullivan, chief of the FCC’s International Bureau, said there are no direct, undersea cables between the U.S. and Cuba, though he said there appear to be some U.S. satellites providing service in the island.
Apparently at the meeting, Andre Mendes, acting director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ Office of Cuba Broadcasting, declared, “Mr. Castro, tear down this firewall.”
The CITF decided to form two subcommittees: one to explore the role of media and freedom of information in Cuba, and the other to explore Internet access in Cuba. The subcommittees will provide the task force a preliminary report of recommendations within six months (by the end of August) based on input from relevant experts and stakeholders. The task force agreed to reconvene in October to review the preliminary reports, after which it will prepare a final report with recommendations for the Secretary of State and the President.
At the end of the meeting, the public was invited to make comments. Several Cuban dissidents lambasted Cuba’s government, drawing comparisons to World War II and to the governments of Syria and Iran. Others centered on a critique of the decades-old U.S. economic embargo and Trump’s policy toward Cuba. Some argued that any U.S. efforts would backfire, by undermining the perceived independence and credibility of burgeoning independent media in Cuba.
In addition to repeating the information about the CITF’s inaugural meeting and membership, the website has links to its Charter and Membership Balance Plan.
More importantly, it provides a form for submission of public comments.
CITF Charter and Membership Balance Plan
The Charter provides that the “Task Force will examine the technological challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access in Cuba, including through federal government support of programs and activities that encourage freedom of expression through independent media and internet freedom so that the Cuban people can enjoy the free and unregulated flow of information.”
According to the Membership Balance Plan, the CITF shall have no more than 12 members, of whom 10 shall be from relevant U.S. federal government departments and agencies. The other two shall be (a) a representative from an internet-related non-governmental organization and (b) a representative from an internet-related private-sector entity.
A subsequent post will examine reactions to the CITF and its inaugural meeting.
 U.S. State Dep’t, Inaugural Meeting of the Cuba Internet Task Force (Feb. 7, 2018).
 Assoc. Press, ‘Tear Down This Firewall’—US Looks to Expand Cuba Internet, N.Y. Times (Feb. 7, 2018).
 U.S. State Dep’t, Website: Cuba Internet Task Force.