HAVANA, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Internet laggard Cuba once again pledged online access for all its people on Friday, acknowledging the country cannot develop without being better connected.
Only a tiny fraction of Cubans have access to high-speed Internet. Cuban officials have been promising better Internet service for years but have cited the U.S. economic embargo and political aggression as reasons for its stunted development.
The recent U.S. rapprochement toward Cuba has added pressure on the Communist-led island to modernize.
“The will exists on the part of the (ruling Communist) Party and the Cuban government to develop the information society and put the Internet at the service of everyone,” First Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel said at the closure of a three-day technology conference.
Diaz-Canel, 54, is first in the line of succession behind 83-year-old President Raul Castro and has been advocating a more open Internet since becoming vice-president two years ago. His remarks on Friday were covered by official media.
The conference brought together technology experts from across the Caribbean island, with state-controlled media promoting voices calling for Cuba to catch up with its neighbors.
The Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union (ITU) ranks Cuba 125th out of 166 countries in telecommunications development, the lowest in the Americas. It says about 25 percent of Cubans have some online access.
Ordinary Cubans mostly have access to state-controlled Intranet at workplaces and schools, or can pay for expensive Internet sessions by the hour at offices of the state telecommunications monopoly Etecsa. Cuban servers block access to anti-Castro sites and pornography.
The United States has set connectivity as a priority in its new relationship with Cuba, making telecommunications equipment, technology and services among the first exemptions to the embargo after Washington and Havana announced on Dec. 17 they would restore diplomatic relations. (Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta and Marc Frank; Editing by Dan Grebler)