Posted on Friday, 05.25.12
Fiber-optic cable benefiting only Cuban government
Fiber-optic cables meant to increase broadband access in Cuba is up and
running but only for Cuban and Venezuelan governments.
By Juan O. Tamayo
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
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