Fernando Ravsberg*

Since the laying of the underwater telephone cable, several senior officials in the Ministry of Communications were relieved of their posts. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — Cuban authorities finally decided to talk about the underwater telephone cable that disappeared from official speeches and the national press a couple years ago. Now they’re saying that testing is being conducted, but they warn that we shouldn’t have any illusions as we will have to continue waiting.

“In peace like in war, we will keep up our communications,” is the official slogan of Cuba’s Ministry of Communications, but its efforts have been so dismal that Cuban humor adapted that slogan to reality by saying “We will keep down our communications” here.

But of all the fiascos, the underwater telephone cable and its two-year delay is certainly the most talked about. Nonetheless, the brief official statement didn’t explain the reasons why the telephone company has taken so long to carry out the tests.

Secrecy during this long gestation period has led to much speculation and rumors, which was contributed to by the replacements of two ministers of communications and two of their deputies. It could have all been pure coincidence, but such occurrences are rare in politics.

The rumors include the mention of a scam in the millions of dollars that allegedly led to officials in the Ministry of Communications and in the ETECSA telephone company being implicated. Apparently, the ruse involved buying cheaper materials at the expense of reducing connectivity.

Witnesses told me that several executives left the telephone company’s offices handcuffed while others fled overseas. Nevertheless, the authorities officially insist on speaking as if no problem ever occurred.

Since August 2012, the submarine telephone cable has been operating for international calls. Photo: Raquel Perez

The ministry and ETECSA should give an explanation to the citizens because the cable cost more than $68 million, which means that every Cuban family paid $20 for 640 gigabytes of bandwidth, multiplying the current connection speed by 3,000 times [as had been announced].

That cable doesn’t belong to the ETECSA Telephone Company, since it doesn’t even own itself, being a state-owned nationwide entity. Its directors therefore have an obligation to explain to the public what their money is spent on and why projects are delayed.

For the telephone company and the ministry, it would be easy to eliminate rumors. All they would have to do is issue a new statement clarifying that the appropriate materials were purchased, none of their officials are suspected of corruption and that the cable possesses the promised gigabytes.

During those two years, the limited information concerning the issue came only from abroad. In May 2012, the Minister of Science and Technology of Venezuela, Jorge Arreaza, said publicly that the underground telephone cable was already operating. However the Cuban silence continued unchanged.

A couple of weeks ago, a US company that monitors the Internet reported that it had detected increased activity in Cuba at speeds just below 400 milliseconds, which could only result from a cable transmission.

Faced with this evidence, ETECSA admitted: “Since this past January 10, we have conducted quality-control testing of Internet traffic on the system. These have been realized using real traffic to and from Cuba with the aim of normalizing this means of communication.”

According the Cuban telephone company (ETECSA), the operationalization of underwater telephone cable will not guarantee an immediate increase in connectivity. Photo: Raquel Perez

The message contained a huge surprise, the cable “has been operational since August 2012, initially involving international telephone voice traffic” – at least we now know that it works for phone conversations.

Regarding the Internet, the company again put us in the dark when it warned us that “this does not mean that the possibilities for access will automatically increase” – which is to say that not even when it’s operational will there be widespread connectivity.

Apparently ETECSA wants to do things slowly and calmly because it “aims to achieve growth gradually.” If it’s true that their initial objective was to move slowly, no one can deny they’ve been more than successful.

Now they’re arguing that it will take more “internal investments in the telecommunications infrastructure and increased foreign exchange resources.” After reading this, Cubans are jokingly saying that the authorities are asking for more money because the funds in the cable project weren’t enough to line everyone’s pocket.

It certainly doesn’t make sense to hand them more of the nation’s financial resources. The least that could be asked is that they first explain how the $70 million was spent and that they submit a detailed plan that clearly establishes the goals, timelines and results.

(*) An authorized Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by BBC Mundo.


6 thoughts on “Cuba/Internet: Dreaming of Sea Monsters

  • No big mystery here. AT&T is not authorized to engage in extraterritorial connections without fed approval. They are a regulated public utility. As such, Cuba was not willing to pay market rates for service to and from the island leaving American ratepayers to subsidize the difference. Americans subsidizing the Castros….ain’t gonna happen! BTW, one man’s terrorists is another man’s freedom fighter. History is written by the victors, ergo, Iran and Afghanistan-terrorists, Libya and Syria-freedom fighters. No contradiction.

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