Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mobile phone use booms in Cuba after restrictions eased

From the Economic Times
24 Apr, 2008, 1737 hrs IST, AGENCIES

HAVANA: Cubans snapped up some 7,400 new contracts for mobile phone service in 10 days after President Raul Castro eased restrictions on mobile phone ownership, a telecoms executive said.

State telecoms company Etecsa is predicting 1.4 million new mobile service contracts in the next five years, Maximo Lafuente, its vice president for mobile services, said yesterday.

Cubans flooded Etecsa offices to sign up for service starting April 14, when government restrictions on personal mobile phones were officially lifted.

Before then, mobile phone service was reserved for people working for foreign firms and top officials of the Communist government.

Many Cubans got permitted users or foreigners to sign up for service on their behalf, and officials turned a blind eye on rampant use of illegal mobile phones.

Cubans have nevertheless welcomed new access to the service, even though its cost, which must be paid upfront in hard currency, is prohibitive for many.

In a country where the average monthly salary is the equivalent of 17 dollars, it costs about 120 dollars just to start service.

But many Cubans supplement their income with business on the black market, receive bonuses in hard currency or remittances from relatives abroad.

Since taking over from ailing Fidel Castro, 81, Raul Castro has lifted a series of bans on Cubans renting cars and hotel rooms and purchasing goods such as pressure cookers, DVDs, electric bikes and cellphones.

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