Texas firm wins $31M contract to lay fiber-optic cable to Guantánamo

The Defense Department on Thursday awarded a Texas firm, Xtera Communications Inc., a $31 million contract to build Guantánamo’s undersea fiber-optic cable connecting the remote U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba with South Florida.

Eight firms competed for the contract, a Pentagon notice said.

The work has an estimated completion date of December 2015, the announcement said. The U.S. Southern Command in South Florida will be on the receiving end of the contract but spokesmen there were not able to say when the communications link would be up and running.

The project is a major investment in upgrading services at the remote U.S. Navy base of about 6,000 residents, including about 2,200 soldiers and other temporary staff at the prison camps currently holding 154 captives.

In September, Ronald Bechtold, the chief information officer at the office of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, testified at the Guantánamo war court that the cable would be robust enough to someday provide fiber-optic services to the entire island of Cuba.

Friday, a Southcom spokesman said there is no vision of expanding the fiberoptic cable beyond the minefield that separates the outpost in southeast Cuba from the rest of the island.

“He was out of his mind. He is no longer working for the Department of Defense,” said Army Col. Greg Julian. “There is no intent to extend the cable to the mainland. It's a closed node for Department of Defense personnel.”

Yet to be decided, Julian said, was whether non-Pentagon personnel on the base, such as reporters, would be able to use the communications link.

The Miami Herald first disclosed plans for a $40 million undersea cable more than a year ago, quoting sources as saying it would be put under the sea from this base in southeast Cuba through the Windward Passage to an undisclosed link in South Florida.

Spokesmen for Xtera, based in Allen, Texas, a Dallas suburb, did not respond to a question Thursday of whether it had cut the proposed project by $9 million in its bid, or whether other firms would do additional work to get the project up and running.

A brief statement Friday emailed from the Defense Information System Agency at Fort Meade, Md., where the public can watch closed-circuit feeds of the Guantánamo war court proceedings, suggested without elaboration that the entire project might be complete by December 2015 for $9 million less than the projected price-tag.

The sum of $31 million “is the base year value of the award, only excluding option periods,” said the statement from the Public Affairs — Media Relations & Security Review Office. “The competition in this procurement drove better pricing.”

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