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Netflix Streams Its Way To Cuba — Slowly

ARUN RATH, HOST:

As U.S.-Cuba relations warm up, a lot of American companies are lining up to cash in on a big new market. One of them, Netflix, announced it's now available on the island. But there are some problems with their business plan. As NPR's Carrie Kahn points out, internet connectivity in Cuba is really slow, not widely available and very expensive.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: We're talking really expensive - about five U.S. dollars for an hour of use, and that's if you can get it. Only about 5 percent of Cubans have full internet access. You have to be a party official or a foreigner to have it at home. That's why Sonya Kelly, who has studied internet connectivity around the world for Freedom House, a civil rights advocacy group, says the Netflix announcement is purely symbolic. Not many people will be able to stream "Orange Is The New Black," or the service's other exclusive series, "House Of Cards." Cubans can barely download a short YouTube video, says Kelly.

SONYA KELLY: For an average Cuban, internet service is almost at the level of a dial-up, if you even remember how slow that was.

KAHN: And then there's the problem with payment. The service's price of $7.99 is nearly half a monthly Cuban salary, and you have to pay with a credit or debit card, which is not widely available on the island. Netflix declined requests for an interview, but in a statement, its chief executive said the company is delighted to finally offer its services to the people of Cuba. While Netflix waits for internet service to improve on the island, Cubans aren't. Many are already avid "House Of Cards" fans.

ALLEJO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: On a recent reporting trip to Cuba I met Allejo (ph). That's his nickname. He wouldn't give me his real name because what he does is illegal. He says through him, you can get anything currently on U.S. TV. He's one of several hundred distributors who sell a weekly package of TV, cable, pay TV and yes, even Netflix offering downloaded onto hard drives and memory sticks. Allejo says he's helping his fellow Cubans not miss out totally on the digital revolution. Carrie Kahn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.

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