Internet Drags in Cuba Despite Cable

August 6, 2011 | Print Print |

Isbel Diaz Torres 

The cable from Venezuela reached Cuba back in February, but the long awaited improved services and access have yet to materialize.

HAVANA TIMES, August 6 — The “ALBA-1” double fiber optic cable still doesn’t offer service to Internet and telephone users in Cuba. The date for activating the project has been put back several times, with the last missed benchmark being July.

Boris Moreno Cordoves, the vice minister of Communications & Informatics, now says that improved services could begin in September or October of this year.

The laying of the cable from Venezuela to Santiago de Cuba was completed in February.

Announcements have repeatedly been made concerning the implementation of a project that promises to multiply the speed of data, image and voice transmissions by 3,000 times the capacity that Cuba currently possesses.

Meanwhile, islanders have been waiting for the arrival of that moment with great expectations.

Internet users continue experiencing the same frustratingly slow and difficult access to the web (Cuba has one of the lowest connection rates in the hemisphere).

According to official figures, 1.6 million users accessed the Internet in Cuba in 2009 (of a population of 11.2 million).  Nevertheless, that figure includes the great majority of those who don’t have full access; rather, they enjoy limited e-mail service or simply the national intranet, with many sites that are outdated.

For many years Cuba has attributed its connection limitations to the United States embargo, which has forced the island to use a satellite connection that is much slower and significantly more expensive than a physical connection.

The “ALBA-1 cable”

A Cuban-Venezuelan joint-venture (Telecomunicaciones Gran Caribe), owned by the state-run telecommunications companies of the two countries, is the entity that has moved the project forward.  Responsibility for installing the line was held by Shanghai Bell, the Chinese subsidiary of the French firm Alcatel-Lucent.  Shanghai Bell is experienced in the installation of lines having done this in many parts of the world.

Vice minister of Communications and Informatics Boris Moreno now says services could begin in September or October.

According to Jose Ignacio Quintero, the project manager for the installation, the cable will have a capacity of around 80 million simultaneous telephone calls, though part of that bandwidth will be for Internet service.  In addition, it will have 640 gigabytes of capacity for connections abroad.

After the final connection, users will be able to “have access to international calls” to and from Cuba “without having to wait,” commented Quintero when the ship arrived with the fiber optic cable from Venezuela this past February.

The Cuban-American owned TeleCuba Company had previously proposed running a cable from Key West to the island — only 108 miles, and therefore cheaper than the Venezuelan connection — but Cuba did not respond to the offer.

The current cable had to travel almost ten times that distance (994 miles from Camuri Venezuela to Siboney Cuba) at a cost of more than US $70,000,000.

According to the Granma newspaper, “The blockade prevents Cuba from being connected to any one of nearly a dozen international connections that surround us.  For example, one of these cables (Cancun-Miami) passes as close as only 20 miles from the Havana seawall.”

Getting online in Cuba 

Notwithstanding the Cuban government’s attempt to socialize Internet service in state-run schools, workplaces, health, research and cultural facilities, sentiment on the island contradicts such aims.  For many Cubans, the services offered are highly insufficient.

In the majority of the cases access to open Internet is conditioned by strict regulations that prohibit personal and creative use of available services.

In the opinion of blogger and activist Yasmin S. Portales, access to the Internet at government institutions is achieved through the “professional, educational or political contacts” of the user, as well as according to the “judgments of the directors of those centers relative to the social purpose of their terminals.”  Under such controls, “those who access will be alienated from their freedom to navigate the web a priori, limited by the standards of political/moral correctness of its network’s administrator,” stressed Portales.

Generally, the regulations of computer security are applied in a discretionary manner, varying from ministry to ministry.  Nor are the standards of censorship uniform.

Optometry technician Jimmy Roque Martinez explained that in the last few weeks, instead of increasing the navigational speed and accessibility of the Infomed network, which belongs to the Cuban Ministry of Health, these capacities have declined.  Roque, who is also an activist member of the Critical Observatory, reports that when using his personal Infomed account he can no longer even access certain national websites such as Granma, Juventud Rebelde or Trabajadores newspapers.

Nevertheless, he checked to find that it’s still possible to access these sites from institutional health system connections.

One source (who wished not to be identified) told HT that the Youth Computer Club they attend in an eastern province generally offers very limited connection time and without the ability to log onto Facebook.  However, if a user declares that they intend to “speak well of the Cuban Revolution and the Cuban Five” on some website — including Facebook — they are granted limitless time.

Cultural institutions seem to be those that offer services (free as well as at moderate rates) to the greatest number of people.  The Cubarte network accommodates many institutions and national creators by offering a range of payment plans.  As part of their missions, several of these institutions offer Internet surfing services to their users, but with the aforementioned limitations.

Yes, but no 

At the end of 2008, computerization process official Carlos Oporto explained that Cuba’s strategy was related to an “orderly and intensive social use of the media and connectivity.”  This was stated in a workshop where another official of the Telecommunications & Informatics Ministry — when referring to the Internet — revealed that “We don’t have the infrastructure for this.”

It’s been almost three years and yet they still don’t seem prepared.

Before the International Relations Commission of the Cuban National Assembly, Bruno Moreno just pointed out to the deputies: “The Cuba-Venezuela cable is just short of going into operation, and now it’s necessary to begin transferring the channels, which implies sitting down with the service providers and beginning to transfer services in September or October.”

The Granma newspaper, as well as the rest of the printed Cuban press, has omitted all information related to the Internet.  According to Yohandry Fontana’s blog, the vice minister emphasized that the responsible position for Cuba is that in this context of financial limitations, blockade and aggression, “We will continue improving access where it’s necessary for the country’s development.”

Months ago, Granma, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party had already made it clear that, “The underwater cable will provide greater quality in info-communication, but this will not necessarily mean an expansion of these services.  The socialization of service will depend more on seeking efficiency than on the amplification of the network.”

During his presentation last week to the parliament committee, Boris Moreno commented that, “The political will exists for expanding the services of the Internet to the degree that economic resources allow the development of the infrastructure necessary for it, because the massive entry onto the Internet requires significant investments for that to be progressively carried out, and that depends on the number of users to serve.  Access for personal use will be offered to the degree that the capacity allows this.”

Back in 2008 Carlos Oporto stated that fiber optics already existed internally in Cuba, so it was only a question of waiting a few years for the authorities responsible to prepare the necessary infrastructure.  But because the recent statements by vice minister Moreno were not made public, we don’t know how much work has still yet to be carried out, or whether he even told the deputies.

Contradicting Waldo Reboredo, the vice-president of Telecomunicaciones Gran Caribe, who had stated months earlier that the fiber optic cable “would reduce the costs of current operations by 25 percent,” Moreno told the National Assembly committee that “this investment will guarantee safer access and will improve the quality of the connections, but it won’t mean a reduction in the costs that Cuba pays for Internet access.”

For the moment, the public’s expectations are yet to be fulfilled.  The privileged few who have their slow connections to the Internet are waiting anxiously for a change.  Will Cubans be able to contract for Internet services in their homes?  Will the price for the service be reduced at tourist centers?  Will speed improve for everyone?  Will they reduce the charges for telephone services?

The answer remains: Who knows?

 

 


What's your opinion?

  • Humberto Capiro (El Cibergues@)

    REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS : Fibre optic cable in Cuba: Unprecedented potential for growth?- March 11, 2011

    According to the authorities, nearly 10% of Cuba’s population is connected to the Internet. That does not necessarily mean that they have access to the World Wide Web. Two parallel networks co-exist on the island: the international network and a closely monitored Cuban intranet consisting only of an encyclopaedia, email addresses ending in “.cu” used by universities and government officials – a sort of “Cuban Wikipedia” – and a few government news websites such as Granma.

    Outside of hotels, only a few privileged individuals have a special permit to access the international network. Yet even the latter does not escape censorship, which is mainly directed against dissident publications on foreign websites, but has been relaxed to some extent since early February 2011.

    The regime does not have the means to set up a systematic filtering system, but it counts on several factors to restrict Internet access: the exorbitant cost of connections – about 1.50 U.S. dollars per hour from the points of access to the state-controlled intranet, 7 U.S. dollars per hour from a hotel to access the international network (even though the average monthly salary is 20 U.S. dollars), and lastly infrastructural problems, particularly slow connections.

    CLICK LINK FOR ENTIRE REPORT

    http://www.ecoi.net/local_link/156364/273146_de.html

  • http://www.GRDPublishing.com Grady Ross Daugherty

    Good article. Now I understand why the cooperative-minded activists with whom I’ve exchanged views via HT are so ill-informed as to many things relating to cooperatives. In the past I’ve recommended that people go to “video.google.com” and review the films The Mondragon Experiment (50-minutes), and Democracy in the Workplace (27-minutes). But, if it is not possible in Cuba to see these films with slow connections, I suppose I was recommending the impossible. I apologize.

  • burgess

    I know a person who had internet in their house.They had a Cuban American friend who sent hard core pornography over the internet to them after being told not to do this.Needless to say that was the end of the connection and could have meant big problems for those involved.This is how the internet is used in many countries.If you go on the comment section for the Miami Herald the language is disgraceful.You tell me how this type of behavour benefits anybody

  • Luis

    RSF talking about Cuba? That’s the same as Uncle Sam talking about Cuba.

    “Enemies of the internet”, how ridiculous.

  • http://laredcubana.blogspot.com Larry Press

    Thanks for the article — I wrote a post summarizing and linking to it:
    http://laredcubana.blogspot.com/2011/08/alba-1-cable-to-begin-service-in.html

    Do you have a quote or any official meeting summary in which Moreno says the cable will begin operation in September or October? Is there any documentation on the plans for infrastructure or training to utilize the capacity of the cable? It does not seem possible that they are just beginning to “sit down with the service providers and beginning to transfer services in September or October.” They must have been planning working on complementary infrastructure for several years.

    Larry

  • Mark Rushton

    I’m a development specialist with a background in doing on-the-ground research on IT development in Cuba since the mid 1990s.

    Every single time I see one of these stories on Cuba and the internet, the story is the same. The author notes that Cuban officials claim the embargo forces them to use expensive, slow satellite services and justify the limitations of service to the Cuban people. Then the author goes on to talk about how hard it is for Cubans to log on to Facebook, or watch videos on YouTube, etc., as though this is the government’s fault.

    This is a developing country with immense fiscal pressures, currently undertaking a massive restructuring of its economy. Cuba has enough trouble just making the buses run (let alone on time) and ensuring that people have enough to eat, but it seems as though the critics of Cuba’s IT policy want to push all of the other challenges aside and ensure that Cuban youth can fire up an XBox and play Halo with kids in the USA.

    Seriously, people. Where are the priorities? The internet is not a damned human right. Having worked in Cuba for nearly two decades, and suffered with my Cuban academic colleagues as we waited… and waited… for web-based email to slooooooowly load, I sure as hell don’t expect the Cuban government to prioritize individual, personal, home-based broadband internet so people can get their jollies in the new .xxx domains or sharing YouTube videos of their cats.

    There’s a lot to criticize about Cuban policy… but by ignoring the geopolitical context in which Cuba is forced to exist, the very real economic blockade that distorts every single international dealing the country makes, those critics are demonstrating their inability to truly understand the challenges of IT policy on the island.

  • Alan

    Hi ,
    You mentioned Cuba did not respond to Telecuba from running a line from Key west to Cuba . But according to the FCC below – Obama/FCC gave Telecuba an agreement to that allowed Cuba to increase the benchmark minute rate from .19 to .84 per minute in April 2011. Will the agreement with the FCC mean any improved services for Cuba now that it seems TeleCuba will be able to service Cuba Directly from The US???? Looking at the FCC ruling it looks like they mentioned something about ISP Waver was dismissed . but I don’t think this that was helpful . But I still think TeleCuba will be up and running with their lines soon .
    DO you have any info on TeleCuba?

    http://www.fcc.gov/document/iconnect-wholesale-inc-dba-telecuba

    Federal Communications Commission
    DA 11-654
    Commission’s benchmarks policy, subject to the conditions discussed below. Such a waiver would be
    consistent with the State Department’s January 2010 policy guidance on licensing the provision of
    telecommunications services to Cuba. That policy guidance implements changes made by the Executive
    Branch in 2009 to the U.S.-Cuba policy that are designed to facilitate greater contact between separated
    family members in the United States and Cuba and increase the flow of information to the Cuban people,
    including greater telecommunications links.63 In issuing this policy guidance, the State Department
    sought to authorize fiber optic cable and satellite links between the United States and Cuba, and to permit
    international roaming arrangements with Cuban telecommunications service providers.64 As noted above,
    the State Department advised that “the Commission should be prepared, to the extent necessary, to grant
    waivers reasonably limited in duration to enable carriers within its jurisdiction to provide
    telecommunications service between the United States and Cuba.”65 Given the unique circumstances of
    the U.S.-Cuba route, as discussed above,66 we agree with the parties in this proceeding that waiving the
    benchmarks policy as it applies to Cuba is reasonable and necessary to re-establish direct links to Cuba
    with the expectation of improving telecommunications services between the United States and Cuba. A
    waiver of the benchmark rates will give U.S. carriers greater flexibility in their discussions with Cuban
    service providers. We also agree with the parties that a three-year waiver is reasonable and that a shorter
    period may not provide sufficient opportunity for progress.