"Posted on Wednesday, 02.09.11
Fiber-optic communications cable arrives in Cuba
By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ
HAVANA — A long-awaited undersea fiber-optic cable linking Cuba with
the outside world arrived on the island on Wednesday, promising a
bandwidth bonanza for a country saddled with exorbitant telephone rates
and among the slowest Internet connection speeds on the planet.
The cable connecting Cuba with key ally Venezuela was brought ashore in
the eastern resort of Siboney in a ceremony attended by dignitaries from
the two countries, the state-run Prensa Latina news agency reported.
The cable is not expected to be operational until the summer, but its
arrival is a landmark for an island that often feels cut off from the
outside world, 52 years after Fidel Castro's revolution turned it from
decadent American playground to crumbling Soviet satellite.
When finished, the cable is expected to increase Internet speed
3,000-fold and be capable of handling about 80 million simultaneous
That's good news in a country where Web pages open at the speed of
molasses oozing out of a jar. A recent report by Akamai Technologies
Inc. said Cuba has the second slowest Internet speed in the world,
besting only the tiny Indian Ocean-island chain of Mayotte.
And that's for those lucky enough to have online access.
A report last year by Cuba's National Statistics Office said only 2.9
percent of the population had used the Internet over a 12-month period,
most through work or school – the lowest level of Internet penetration
in the Western Hemisphere.
Deputy Information Minister Jorge Luis Perdomo told reporters at a
technology conference this week that, for now at least, Cubans would
continue to be able to connect solely through their jobs or through school.
He said the limitations were not the result of any political concern
over what increased connectivity will mean, but rather a product of the
sorry infrastructure on the island and the time it will take to improve it.
Still, widespread Internet activity is sure to be a wild card on an
island with a state-controlled media, a closed political system and
where opposition groups are often marginalized or worse.
Last week a video began circulating on blogs – including one maintained
by well-known activist Yoani Sanchez – that appears to show an Interior
Ministry official warning a group of government employees that Cuba's
enemies hope to use the Internet to attack the island.
"We are not 'fighting' new technology," the official says. "But we must
understand it, use it in our interest, and know what our enemy means to
do with it."
The official repeatedly brings up the case of Alan Gross, a 61-year-old
American subcontractor detained in Cuba since December 2009 on suspicion
of spying. Washington has said he was distributing communication
equipment to the Jewish community. Cuban prosecutors are seeking a
20-year jail term.
The man in the video, who was not identified, said Gross was carrying
satellite phones and technology that would have created unauthorized
"Technology in itself is not a threat," the man says. "The threat is
what is done, or what can be done, using technology."
Cuba has had no reaction to the video, nor has it confirmed its
The fiber-optic cable project is being carried out by Alcatel-Lucent SA
of Paris for the state telecommunications companies of Cuba and
Venezuela. Cuban officials have said it is expected to cost about $70
million, and be functional in June or July. A second segment will extend
from Cuba to nearby Jamaica.
Cuba relies on slow, expensive satellite links because the U.S.
government's 48-year embargo has prevented most trade between the island
and the United States and has made companies in other countries shy away
from doing business with Cuba.
Cubans have high hopes for the cable, despite warnings that things will
not change quickly.
"I think it is fantastic," said Lazaro More, a musician who twice a week
goes to a Havana "cybercafe" that allows access to a limited number of
internal Web sites and e-mail options. He spends $3 for two hours of
service, a fortune for many since Cubans earn an average of just $20 a
"I am sure this will make it a lot easier for Cubans to communicate with
the rest of the world," he said.
Associated Press writer Paul Haven contributed to this report.