Last Friday, the Federal Communications Commission (the “FCC”) adopted an Order making it easier for telecommunications providers to provide facilities-based services such as undersea submarine cables and satellite services, between the United States and Cuba.
As Focus on Regulation previously noted, in December 2014 the Obama Administration took executive action to ease trade sanctions and export controls against Cuba, which included efforts to authorize exports of telecommunications products and services to Cuba.
In October 2015, the State Department asked the FCC to remove Cuba from its “Exclusion List for International 214 Authorizations” (the “Exclusion List”). (An International 214 Authorization is required to provide telecommunications services between the U.S. and another country). Under the FCC’s rules, carriers can generally apply for and receive authority to provide international service using any U.S.-licensed facilities without filing separate applications for each new facility or country. The FCC streamlined this process to promote entry into new markets and increase global investment in telecommunications services. But for countries on the Exclusion List, carriers’ applications are processed on a non-streamlined basis, and require coordination with the U.S. Department of State.
In November 2015, the FCC issued a Public Notice seeking comment on whether to remove Cuba from the Exclusion List. The FCC received limited response to the proposal, but commenters generally supported the measure. Commenters argued that removing Cuba from the Exclusion List would foster competition for communications services between the U.S. and Cuba, bring innovative medical technologies (like telemedicine) to the people of Cuba and increase the free flow of information to and from the country. One commenter also asked the FCC to permit market-based negotiations for services by removing nondiscrimination requirements on the U.S.-Cuba route.
The FCC agreed with commenters that removing Cuba from the Exclusion List would “make it easier for U.S. facilities-based carriers to initiate service to Cuba, promote open communications, and help foster bilateral communications between the United States and Cuba.” Under the new streamlined process, the FCC will grant applications to provide service to or from Cuba 14 days after the application is placed on public notice—unless the application is opposed by the FCC or another party. Carriers with existing global Section 214 authority can also provide services between the U.S. and Cuba without additional authorization.
While the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba remains federal law, and Congress isn’t likely to lift it in the near term, the FCC’s Order in this proceeding is the latest in a series of steps designed to further improve relations between the U.S. and Cuba.