It looks like the Obama Administration’s effort to open the door for U.S. companies to provide telecom services in Cuba has taken a step forward, and then a step (or maybe just half a step) back. But either way, there appears to have been movement recently – enough to justify this reminder to keep on your toes if you’re thinking about moving into the Cuba market.

Last April the Administration announced its intent to lift many of the longstanding U.S. sanctions against Cuba.  On the telecom side, the Secretaries of State, Treasury and Commerce were directed to enable providers to: enter agreements to establish fiber-optic and satellite links between the U.S. and Cuba; enter roaming service agreements with Cuban telecom providers; provide and pay for telecom, satellite radio and television services for Cuban customers; and export certain donated communications devices.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) began crafting new regulations immediately to effectuate the President’s directive.  We spoke with an official in OFAC’s Licensing Division on July 17, 2009, and were told that those rules have been finalized and delivered to the White House.

That’s the good news.

The bad news? We were also told that, while the rules were slated to be published in the Federal Register on July 15, they were pulled at the last minute for reasons unknown.  According to the official, the White House has requested some changes to the rules, but OFAC is apparently uncertain as to what those changes entail. The official stated that upon the resolution of the White House’s concerns, the rules will be published immediately, but as of right now, the rules are “in limbo.”

Once the rules are published in the Federal Register (the official would not offer a prediction on when that will happen), they are currently expected to become effective immediately.  At that time, the FCC will be directed to abandon the policy directives it received nearly 16 years ago from the State Department, and replace them with a new set of application procedures as constructed by OFAC and the White House.

As frustrating as this latest twist may be, it at least indicates that things are moving on the Cuba front. And if the new rules do become effective immediately upon Federal Register publication, things could happen fast. All the more reason to check back often with