Cuban star asks Obama, Google for free internet

Cuban folk star Silvio Rodriguez has asked US President Barack Obama and Google CEO Eric Schmidt to provide developing countries with free internet access.

"You owners of the Internet and President Obama: build a satellite network to give free Internet to the developing world," the 63-year-old singer said yesterday in a blog post.

"It's a simple proposal," said Rodriguez. "The world is very unequal, and a lot of pain could be avoided with action that could turn into a worldwide qualitative step forward.

"I am sure that it is something within reach of privileged minds (and budgets)."

Rodriguez, a popular singer with a 40-year career in his native Cuba, said he was inspired to make the plea after hearing that President Obama had recently met with prominent internet entrepreneurs, including Schmidt, ailing Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and the founder of Internet bookseller Amazon, Jeff Bezos.

Quite how receptive Cuba's communist regime will be to overtures from some of the biggest capitalist concerns on the planet remains to be seen.

Cuba has been the subject of trade sanctions imposed by its neighbour the United States since 1960, after rebels led by Fidel Castro (pictured) overthrew government of US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Cuban authorities recently trumpeted a new undersea fibre optic link to socialist ally Venezuela as a blow against America's economic stranglehold in the region.

Venezuela's government says its new Internet link will be used for "social" purposes, with priority given to a restricted set of users in universities and other educational institutions.

Authorities in Cuba have shown increasing interest in cyberspace over recent months. Last December, they launched their own Spanish-speaking Enciclopedia cubana to rival the US-based Wikipedia.

Cuba's Deputy Minister of Information, Jorge Luis Perdomo, insisted earlier this month that "there is no political obstacle" to Internet access in Cuba.