Cuba: Breaking The Fiber Optic Monopoly

Dmitri Prieto

The underwater sea cable is just part of the problem.

HAVANA TIMES — I’m still not quite sure what really happened with the famous underwater cable between Cuba and Venezuela, that fiber optic line that was going to connect our country to the global broadband network.

Internet service remains inaccessible to most people who live here on the island. It’s a problem of both access and connectivity that was aggravated by the recent government action establishing hourly rates that exclude the vast majority of Cubans from the benefits of “being online.”

But the non-functioning underwater cable is only part of the problem because, even without that faster connection with the “outside world,” nothing is preventing us from being well interconnected within the Cuban archipelago.

As was demonstrated at the recent Critical Observatory Social Forum by Alien Garcia (an activist with Blackhat4all magazine, a technological popularization project), using only those means provided within Cuba, it’s possible to organize a number of services (from booking interprovincial bus tickets to social blogging and virtual conferences).

Relatedly, I recently learned from the Cuban television news that the island’s railroad company is installing its own fiber optic system along the railway lines for its use. Likewise — according to other sources — the electric company is doing the same. In short, the ETECSA telecommunications company is putting in place an extensive fiber optic system all across the country.

This means that soon there will be not just one, but at least three cable systems available for increasing connectivity. Moreover, experts are saying that the fiber optic lines being laid will have bandwidths that under the present circumstances will never become saturated.

My question is the following: Don’t we have enough resources (already installed or about to be installed) that could break the monopoly of a “single cable” to improve internet connectivity all across Cuba?

Currently there are several local suppliers of connectivity in the country, yet these only cater to the needs of specific sectors: Infomed (public health), Ceniai (science and technology), Cubarte (culture), Enet (ETECSA service), among others.

They each have trained staffs that I think they could be “upgraded” to begin providing services to the public – ordinary citizens.

This would imply negotiating, without bureaucratic hurdles, with the three owners of fiber optic cable systems and involving (a dream?) the participation of their workers (those involved with the fiber optic cable and the service providers) not only in the business revenues but also in business management.

Those in the know say that both the fiber optic cable and the number of service providers are good, but that the Cubans servers won’t be able to handle a sudden increase in the flow of data (which is what they say happened with the Cubarte server, or was it Infomed?, one February 14th).

My response would be that there will have to be recapitalization. We will have to install new servers, like other countries have done. This can only be done with more money, which is what would ensure the opening and expansion of services by each provider. Investment in a national cable system is already being prioritized, and not just one – but three.

One last point: I just read the tell-all novel Enemigo (The Enemy), by Cuban writer Raul Capote, who worked as a double agent for Cuban counterintelligence (as “Daniel”) and the CIA (as “Paul”).

Capote discusses how he was involved in a US project to generate Wi-Fi reception in Havana by planting a small number of devices in key points all across the Cuban capital.

Could it be possible to do that without the help of the CIA? Surely the Chinese sell such gadgets. Who knows, maybe even the Wi-Fi system that “Paul”/“Daniel” was going to install could be built with components “MADE IN CHINA.”



8 thoughts on “Cuba: Breaking The Fiber Optic Monopoly

  • jacob has his theory and moses had another. the cable was stolen. wi-fi in brasil and chile seems to work well enough. in australia, the opposition has accused the government of waste when wi-fi is good enough especially in lightly populated country areas.

  • If ETECSA should ever need an engineer to contribute in something in the likes of “Plano Nacional de Banda Larga” which was boycotted by private enterprises here in Brazil, I’m in because I’m jobless. 🙂

  • These things take time.

    In my country it took a decade between the popularization of dial-up connections and the popularization of broadband connections. Still, most of my people are still on dial-up.

  • …safely done? Are we still talking about the internet? Words and pictures Walter. Name one “outcome” to be afraid of. For goodness sakes, 70% of internet use is pornography. Cuba is no virgin there. The other 30% is news, most of which is gossip about who’s boinkiing who. That sliver of access which would be used to send the dreaded capitalist propaganda to the island (here again, we are talking product promotions) would be offset by Cuba sending out Reflections of the senile and incontinent. Heck, Walter, you have access to the internet full-time and look how you turned out…hey, wait a minute, you have a point (LOL)

  • Luis, if you are right and the only problem with the Venezuelan cable is the lack of a fiber optic network inside of Cuba then we should see super-enhanced connectivity shortly. Moreover, typically buildout occurs in stages. In my neighborhood as soon as a node was connected, we had service from that node. We did not have to wait for the whole community to have cable to be back online.Of course we are talking about Cuba so everything will take longer and be done illogically. I would not be surprised to see high-speed connectivity put on hold until the whole island is completed. Somehow, my experiences in Cuba tell me it is not that simple. I think the regime is afraid of the power this high-speed connectivity will provide civil society in sending as well as receiving real time information. Moreover, government use of the network brings government vulnerability to cyberattack from outside and within. In light of the fact there are still sizable numbers of Cubans who still look to the Malecon fearing an invasion of US Marines, I can only imagine their concerns about cyberattacks. Still, I hope you are right and the days of Cuba 1.0 are soon over.

  • Dmitri, Luis, Jacob and others,

    OK, lets assume that political considerations are inevitable in any major social enterprise. These things may be technically defined, but the choices of vast investments in infrastructure and the decisions to ignore, allow, regulate or sabotage are unavoidably driven by self-interests, whether the state, the major financial bodies or whomever thinks its worth being a player.

    I won’t bother here to point out the vast manipulations afoot in the US and internationally to determine the outcomes of the so-called free WWW. If you don’t know about that already, it is probably because you don’t want to know – or are intellectually an infant.

    So guys and hopefully gals in Cuba, what are your suggestions on how Cuba could dare to open up to the world on the web, and not have it cut the jugular vein of the Cuban socialist experiment? If you were in charge and didn’t want to see access-to-all turned into a major epidemic of all the worst outcomes not only happening now in many well-connected theoretically free-and-democratic countries, but including the special attention the professional warriors of the Washington, Wall Street, Miami triad would ferociously launch at such an “opening,” to demolish finally the Commie rebels in sunny Cuba.

    Your suggestions must not be foolish or naive for one second, or like the worst virus ever, your good wishes will lower the firewall to the worlds worst con-artists.

    Please, suggestions on how it could be safely done.

  • I am pretty sure that the undersea cable was purposefully made faulty. Come on, who would lay a multi-million dollar line without testing it a few times? The issue isn’t connectivity and bandwidth, it is political. If Cuba had that much more bandwidth, there would have been a tremendous amount of pressure to open the service up … which would mean many more people on the internet and the threat of political instability. Many companies have asked to set up satellite ground stations to get more bandwidth into the country but it has always been denied and only state empresas can do it. There is service in Cuba but only enough to keep local companies or offices operating. And good luck trying to find a dial up USB modem anywhere on earth … they virtually don’t exist any more. But in Cuba, you still need dial up and you still pay huge fees per minute to use the phone line and large fees per hour to use internet.

  • “Likewise — according to other sources — the electric company is doing the same. In short, the ETECSA telecommunications company is putting in place an extensive fiber optic system all across the country.”

    That’s what I was talking about the lack of Cuba’s network infrastructure. The simply installation of the cable wouldn’t ‘magically’ provide services for end-users.

    I said:

    “The ALBA-1 was only a first step. In order for end-users to have the bandwidth it provides, a fiber-optic network needs to be implemented as a backbone through the whole island.”

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