The Miami Herald

Fiber-optic cable benefiting only Cuban government

The fiber-optic cable between Cuba and Venezuela, long and eagerly awaited by Cubans as a speedy new ramp onto the Internet, is “in full operation” but only between the two governments, according to news reports and experts.

Cubans now have the slowest and most expensive access to the Internet in Latin America because their connections must go through satellites rather than far faster and cheaper fiber-optic cables.

That was supposed to change with the $70 million ALBA-1 fiber-optic cable, laid under the Caribbean from Venezuela to Siboney beach near the southeastern city of Santiago de Cuba and paid for largely by leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

But the Cuban government has never explained why the cable remains unavailable to people on the island, leaving the door open to speculation and rumors.

A corruption scandal last summer at the Cuban state telecommunications monopoly, ETECSA, sparked widespread reports that the cable was not working because bribes had led to the purchase of bad equipment. Alcatel-Lucent SA of France laid the cable.

But on Thursday, Venezuela’s science and technology minister, Jorge Arreaza, told reporters the cable “is absolutely operational. It will depend on Cuba’s government how it uses it … but we know that the undersea cable is in full operation.”

Arreaza also hinted that Venezuela is in fact using the cable, saying his country has benefitted from a spur that goes from Cuba to Jamaica and can connect to other fiber-optic cables linking the United States and Europe.

José Remón, a former senior ETECSA official now living in Miami, said Friday that Arreaza’s comments confirm what he has been saying since late last year — that the cable was operational but restricted to Cuban and Venezuelan government entities.

Cuban authorities have not enabled their end of the cable to connect to the World Wide Web once it reaches Venezuela, Remón added, and Venezuelan authorities have not enabled the cable as an Internet connection to Cuba.

“This is confirmation by Cuba’s ally of what we have been saying: That the cable is working but limited to service between certain Cuban and Venezuelan state entities or strategic communications between the two countries,” Remón told El Nuevo Herald.

Venezuelan bloggers have posted unconfirmed reports that sensitive Venezuelan government information, such as voting, citizenship and intelligence records, is being kept in Cuba.

There’s certainly no evidence that average Cubans are using any Internet connection other than satellites, said Larry Press, a professor at California State University Dominguez Hills who writes the blog The Internet in Cuba.

Press wrote Friday that data collected by Renesys, a New Hampshire company that monitors the state of the global Internet, shows that all connections to Cuba from Miami, New York, Dallas and Sao Paulo in Brazil are going through satellites.

A Renesys official told him, “There is no evidence of a submarine cable in use in Cuba in 2012,” Press added. That can be determined by the speed of connections — relatively slow speeds signal satellites while much faster speeds signal fiber-optic cables.

Press also recalled that the former Soviet Union hosted all the computerized data for the entire Soviet bloc at the International Centre for Scientific and Technical Information in Moscow. The agency’s current Web page shows Cuba remains a member.

Remón said Cuba’s restrictions on the use of the ALBA-1 fiber-optic cable show the communist government fears the impact of broader access to the Internet.

U.S. supporters of engagement with Cuba have argued that the U.S. embargo’s restrictions on the sale of advanced telecommunications equipment to the island were responsible for its lag in Internet connectivity.




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