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January 27, 2023

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FCC Clears Path for U.S. Telecom Companies to Provide Services to Cuba

The Federal Communications Commission recently removed Cuba from its "Exclusion List," allowing telecommunications companies to offer telephone and internet services between the United States and Cuba without separate approval from the agency. Cuba had been on the Exclusion List since the list was adopted in 1996, and was the only nation remaining on the list.

The FCC’s order, which was issued on Jan. 15, 2016, significantly lowers the regulatory hurdles carriers must clear to offer telecom services between the United States and Cuba. Prior to the order, only a few companies (including Sprint and IDT Domestic Telecom, Inc.) had received approval to provide telecom services between the United States and Cuba.

Now, not only will carriers seeking new approval from the FCC to provide services to Cuba receive such authority much sooner, but carriers with existing global approval may now provide services to Cuba without additional authorization from the FCC.

The FCC’s order is an important milestone in the ongoing process of improving U.S. relations with Cuba. Since 1960, the U.S. government has imposed an embargo on Cuba, placing a series of restrictions on trade including prohibitions on importing and exporting goods or services to and from Cuba or participating in transactions in which the Cuban government or any Cuban national has an interest. The Cuban embargo remains in place, and the U.S. government continues to enforce prohibitions on most transactions between the U.S. and Cuba.

Since 2009, however, and particularly since the Obama administration’s December 2014 announcement that it would reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba, several sectors, including travel, telecommunications, and financial services, have benefited from a liberalization of the regulatory regime. The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), for example, now authorizes limited categories of items to be exported to Cuba. Among these categories are items intended to improve the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people, such as consumer communication devices and telecommunications infrastructure equipment.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), meanwhile, has issued general licenses authorizing transactions, including payments, incident to authorized purposes such as the provision of telecommunications services in Cuba. OFAC general licenses also authorize travel to Cuba and associated activities that are directly incidental to the conducting of market research, commercial marketing, sales negotiation, accompanied delivery, or servicing in Cuba of items consistent with the U.S. government’s export licensing policy, though the traveler must maintain a full-time schedule of business activities.

The FCC’s order is thus the latest in a series of steps taken under the Obama administration to facilitate telecommunications services between the United States and Cuba. Much work remains to be done to build trust between U.S. carriers and the Cuban government, though there is a certain amount of urgency to make progress under comparatively favorable regulatory conditions before President Obama’s successor is elected. By clearing regulatory obstructions for carriers seeking to offer services to Cuba, the FCC’s order opens a window of access to a new market for U.S. telecom service providers. 

© Copyright 2023 Armstrong Teasdale LLP. All rights reserved National Law Review, Volume VI, Number 27

About this Author

Douglas N. Marsh, Armstrong Teasdale, Denver, drafting judicial memoranda, Litigation lawyer

Doug Marsh is an associate in the Litigation practice group. As a Special Assistant State’s Attorney in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and through federal and state judicial clerkships, Doug gained significant knowledge about trial preparation and procedure, case administration, and legal research.

His experience includes drafting judicial memoranda, orders, and opinions; conducting depositions and preparing related documents; examining and cross-examining witnesses; presenting oral arguments in trial and appellate courts; and...

F. Scott Galt, Armstrong Teasdale, Global Trade Lawyer, International Compliance Attorney

As a member of the firm’s International practice group, Scott understands that government actions increasingly affect companies involved in the global trade of goods and services. To manage those added risks associated with overseas transactions, Scott handles international corporate compliance issues and global transactions for foreign and domestic companies in a wide variety of industries. His knowledge of local legal requirements, including domestic import and export regulations and national data protection laws in many countries, helps organizations enhance their...

Jennifer A. Schwesig, Armstrong teasdale Law firm, international attorney

Jennifer Schwesig serves as the leader of the firm’s International Practice Group. She understands that to be truly competitive, companies must have a business orientation that is global in scope. Jennifer knows that organizations must often bridge the amalgam of local, national, and foreign country laws as well as analyze the added risks that accompany any overseas transaction. In order to facilitate global expansion and management of operations, she counsels both domestic and foreign clients on international corporate compliance issues and business transactions.

Charles W. Steese, intellectual property, telecommunications, litigation,

Chuck Steese is a prominent trial attorney with extensive experience in telecommunications and intellectual property disputes. His engineering background enhances his ability to handle complicated technical cases efficiently and effectively.

Clients routinely praise Chuck for his ability to simplify cases into manageable issues that judges and juries can comprehend. He has successfully tried in excess of 40 cases to finality in courts and before regulatory commissions across the United States. Chuck has also successfully resolved numerous...