Internet for Cuba: The Mystery of the cable

Posted: January 26, 2013 by jennroig in Articles, English
Tags: , , , , , , ,


Ok. Maybe it’s time for me to address the issue of the Internet cable that it’s supposed to come from Venezuela to Cuba and would improve the Island’s connectivity. Some of my friends have been asking me pretty much the same question because of the media fuzz that has been going on lately over this subject.

The tale of this cable can be tracked at least back to 2007, mid July, when this news item was published by Cubadebate: “El cable submarino Cuba-Venezuela: resumen de mentiras sobre Internet en el diario La Vanguardia” (The submarine cable between Cuba-Venezuela: summary of lies about Internet published by La Vanguardia). This article began by saying that “In a short time a cable will be laid between Cuba and Venezuela to improve Internet access in Cuba and other Caribbean countries”. “In a short time”, I find that combination of words very ammusing.

So, some 5 and a half years later, the cable has not changed the internet experience in Cuba, despite the 70 millions dollars spent on the project. Somehow I can find this piece of info even more ammusing. In fact, I remember that by 2011 there was a popular joke in Cuba, telling that sharks had eaten the cable.

So, the cable was supposed to go from La Guaira in Venezuela to Santiago de Cuba, a distance of more than 600 km.

So, would access to Internet improve in Cuba? Would it be easier for Cubans to surf the Web and access multiple news media and social media and all other Internet sites? My answer is: I don’t think so. But let’s break my argument into pieces.

Disclaimer: I have not reported this issue by myself. So I can’t vouch 100% for the accuracy of these data -but quite honestly, could I fully vouch for it even if I have talked to the sources myself? Sources can lie or hide facts too. I’m only looking around the web the kind of info and data I consider reliable, which is mostly published on alternative small news media, in Spanish, so English speakers tend to not be aware of. My main source is this article by Arián Jesús Pérez, “La historia de un cable contada por Cubadebate“, which I find to be a good journalistic work, well researched and written, and reliable.

The current landscape: with or without cable:

Cuba’s access to Internet relies on satellite connection. I’m not sure which satellite, and how much the USA embargo has to do with the current situation, but I know the facts: Internet in Cuba is insanely slow. I’m not certain about the technicalities, how many gigas or megas, but I know it is so slow that no foreigner can even imagine! Just try to remember your experience with the slowest Internet ever, then multiply it by a hundred, then by a thousand, and reality might even hit you on the nose if you happen to be in Cuba trying to search the Web or access your email. Trust me, it’s beyond your wildest dreams.

Who’s allowed to access? To give you an idea, this is some official data from 2010 – the most updated data available- that can be found on the (Cuban) National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) website.

– Amount of personal computers per 1000 inhabitants: 64

– Internet users per 1000 inhabitants: 159

cable-submarino-4-580x870In fact, Internet access in Cuba is mostly granted at the institutional level, to some universities, scientific research facilities, news media, some cultural organizations, goverment facilities… Still, a lot of this places enable a controlled access to the Web, so there are a number of sites that are blocked.

Yes, apparently the cable would improve connectivity, which should make things easier and cheaper. However… -when it’s about Cuba, always wait a “however”.

Funny facts about the cable… mostly technical:

Where to begin… Let’s start with capacity.

Venezuelan Science and Tecnology Minister Jorge Arreaza described the cable like having “986 km and a capacity of 640 gigabytes”, according to Martinoticias on May 25, 2012 (I don’t trust a lot this news site because it’s located in Miami, and Cubans there are anything but impartial, but let’s believe the accuracy of quotes). Meanwhile, by January 22, 2011, Cubadebate informed that according to Ricardo Menéndez, the former Venezuelan Science and Tecnology Minister, before Arreaza, atributed to the cable “320 gigabytes and 1.600 km”.

These are only two sources, I’m almost positive I could find a third version, but I don’t want to waste my time. I just gave you the overall picture.

Second, the cable didn’t arrive now. It arrived to Cuba in 2011! Check this TeleSur clip if you can understand some Spanish.

So what happened?

By May 2012, Venezuela was claiming that the cable was fully operational on their side. However, problems with Internet persisted in the Island so Venezuela blamed Cuba for the lousy situation of connectivity. According Arreaza, “any inconvenient concerning Internet in Cuba should be a sovereign matter of the Cuban government”. Wow, I bet this quote wasn’t used by Cuban media. But again, I don’t fully trust this Martinoticias either.

The the 1 million dollar question: Why?

Sad facts about the cable… mostly political:

Arián gathered an interesting set of news covering the issue. He refers to an article published by Cubadebate on January 201o, where the former vice minister of Information and Communications in Cuba, Ramón Linares Torres, had declared something that could help our understanding: “these initiatives [such as the cable] will provide a better quality for infocommunications, but it doesn’t necessarily imply its extension”.

For me, this is a dark and vague statement. My take away is that Linares was suggesting that those with access, could get a faster internet, but there weren’t plans to amplify the number of users.

Arián raised some interesting and valuable questions, with so far no definitive or accurate answer. These are some of them:

  • Did the cable really cost almost 70 millions?
  • Would it actually improve connectivity 3000 times?
  • What has to do or how is connected the US embargo to the failure of the cable?
  • Has Cuba officially set as a policy the social use of Internet, prioritizing universities, cultural and health centers, news media and more than 600 “Joven Club de Computación”?
  • Would the cable imply a huge hope to connectivity? Would it improve the quality of the Internet experience? And eventually, would it allow to extend the service to regular Cuban households?
  • Is or is it not Cuba an enemy of the Internet?
  • Would the cable actually cheapen the cost of Internet y telecommunications?
  • Finally, why hasn’t the Cuban Media fully covered in detail this issue which is indeed highly relevant for Cubans?

Finally, why is today everybody talking about this again?

Well recently on January 2013 AP was informing that the cable had finally started to be used in Cuba on January 14th (here in English on The Daily Beast).  According sources -always unnamed sources- from ETECSA, Cuba’s telecom monopoly, “the country’s first hard-wired fiber-optic Internet cable has been activated, (…) still in the testing stage and won’t mean an instant access increase”.

My take away, my answer, is that no matter the status of the cable, regular Cubans won’t be able to access the Web without restrictions, at least not on the foreseeable future. Well, look at the Arab spring… And then, it’s true that some bloggers are using the internet to communicate alternative or opposing ideas other than the government’s points of view. But most of them are unknown inside the Island. What would happen if they were known?

I do not think access to Internet will be available for the ordinary citizen in Cuba, not tomorrow, not this year at least. I wish though that reality would prove me wrong.

  1. azulpluma says:

    Reblogged this on La Pluma Azul.

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