Cuba cut off internet access Sunday after Cubans held the country's largest anti-government protest in decades. When the government partially restored the internet on Wednesday, "images and videos circulated on social media that purported to show police officers breaking into Cubans' homes and arresting suspected protesters," The Washington Post reports. President Biden said earlier this week that the U.S. "stands firmly" with Cubans and their "clarion call for freedom," and on Thursday he suggested his administration may try to ensure that Cubans can communicate online.
"Communism is a failed system, universally failed system," and Cuba is, "unfortunately, a failed state and repressing their citizens," Biden said at a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday. "They've cut off access to the internet. We're considering where we have the technological ability to reinstate that access."
Earlier Thursday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), two House Republicans, and the senior GOP commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission, Brendan Carr, urged Biden to approve experimental technologies to enable Cuban citizens to evade their government's internet blackouts.
Carr pointed to a decommissioned system called Loon, developed by Google and a company called Raven, that uses high-altitude hot air balloons to broadcast a wireless signal to specific areas. He said the balloons could be deployed about 20 miles off the Cuban coast, in international waters, for an unspecified cost.
As DeSantis was holding his press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was calling the lack of internet access "a huge issue in Cuba and one that is very challenging for the people of Cuba." Privately, Politico reports, "Biden administration officials have been discussing the logistics of how to get around Cuban censorship, but the administration is still engaged in a monthslong review of Cuba policy."
Cubans could only access the internet at tourist hotels until 2013, when former President Barack Obama reached a deal with Cuba to restore diplomatic ties and allow U.S. telecommunications firms to offer internet and other services to the island, Reuters reported in 2019. Former President Donald Trump reversed many of Obama's Cuba policies, and a 2019 final report from a State Department task force concluded that the change in policies deterred U.S. companies from investing in Cuba, leaving Chinese companies to dominate the market. That's "worth challenging given concerns that the Cuban government potentially obtains its censorship equipment from Chinese internet infrastructure providers," the report advised.