The US can't beam internet into authoritarian states like Cuba
5 min read
Technical hurdles limit the potential for Starlink satellites, Google Loon balloons, or wifi hotspots at the US embassy in Havana or Guantanamo Bay to break Cuban internet censorship.
After an eruption of historic, nationwide protests on July 11, the Cuban government is blocking its citizens' access to major social media platforms to quash dissent. Now, the US government says it's looking for ways to beam uncensored internet access into Cuba.

On July 21, a State Department official confirmed that the Biden administration is "working with the private sector & Congress to identify ways to make the internet more accessible to the Cuban people." A day earlier, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told the South Florida local news station WPBF that restoring internet access in Cuba is a priority for president Joe Biden. "That isn't easy," Psaki said. "But he's going to look for ways, working with his team, to expand ways to do that, or see what our options are."

There are plenty of proposals from Cuban-American activists, Florida politicians, and members of the Federal Communications Commission for how the US might undermine Havana and connect Cubans to the web. The federal government could clear the regulatory hurdles that prevent Elon Musk from using his satellite network to beam broadband down from space. The government could muster decommissioned hot air balloons from Google's Loon project to position floating cell towers in the stratosphere above Cuba. The US military could turn its naval base at Guantanamo Bay into a massive wifi hotspot.

Yet daunting technical roadblocks severely limit their potential to bring the free and open web to many Cubans.

For decades, countries like the US ran programs like Radio Free Europe, which broadcast news and entertainment to radio listeners living under the censorship of the Soviet Union. The US has run a similar program for Cuba under the name Radio Martí (named after Cuban independence hero José Martí) since 1985. The broadcasts—much like today's proposals for a guerilla internet network in Cuba—aim to give citizens access to a broader range of information and empower them to challenge their…
Nicolás Rivero
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