Netflix launches in Cuba

The Netflix logo is shown in this illustration photograph in Encinitas, California in this file photo taken on October 14, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Blake

(Reuters) - Netflix Inc launched its movie and TV streaming service in Cuba on Monday, joining the list of U.S. companies looking to take advantage of thawing diplomatic relations between the United States and the communist-ruled island country. The United States announced new rules on Jan. 15 that will significantly ease sanctions on Cuba, opening up the island to expanded U.S. travel, trade and financial activities. Netflix said the service, starting at $7.99 per month, would be available to customers with international payment cards. Cuba, with a population of about 11 million, has one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the world - barely 5 percent. Broadband access and Wi-Fi are also highly restricted. MasterCard Inc has said it will allow its cards issued in the United States to be used in Cuba, effective March 1. American Express Co has also said it would launch operations in Cuba. Netflix said on Monday that customers in Cuba would be able to watch a wide slate of shows including its own shows such as "House of Cards", "Orange is the New Black" and "Marco Polo". The company said last month it would complete its expansion into 200 countries within two years, faster than expected, as it builds presence overseas while growth in the United States slows. Netflix's streaming video service added 4.3 million subscribers in the fourth quarter, of which more than half were from outside the United States. The company said on Wednesday that it would launch its movie and TV streaming service in Japan in the fall of 2015. Netflix's shares were little changed at $443.10 in noon trading on the Nasdaq. (Reporting by Anya George Tharakan and Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru; Editing by Kirti Pandey)