Controversial Cuba internet cable reportedly activated

Monday, January 21, 2013

A controversial submarine cable designed to improve internet quality in Cuba has been activated, according to internet intelligence company Renesys.

Cuba has traditionally relied on internet services via satellite from three different providers, until January 14 when Spanish telco Telefónica (NYSE: TEF) began to provide services to Cuban state operator Etecsa, Renesys said in a release.

Latencies to Cuba from many locations around the world have since decreased to around 480 milliseconds, which implies that the new Telefónica service cannot be entirely via satellite and must be making use of the submarine cable.

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However, latencies from nearby countries would be expected to drop to less than 50 milliseconds if the service was provided exclusively via submarine cable.

It is therefore likely that - "either by design or misconfiguration" - Etecsa is using the cable asymmetrically to enjoy greater bandwidth on incoming traffic, while continuing to send outgoing traffic via satellite services, the internet intelligence firm said.

The activation of the cable may be a good first step in improving the quality of internet connections in Cuba, but the lack of widespread public access is likely to continue, Renesys added.

The submarine cable project began in 2007 and was initially planned to be completed in 2009, however the cable did not land in Cuba until early 2011 after hitting numerous delays.

Internet quality on the Caribbean island did not improve upon the cable's completion however, and authorities have long remained quiet on the project, which has been mired by rumors of corruption.

What is clear is that Cuba is in desperate need of action to improve ICT penetration, as the country has struggled to keep up with its neighbors in the region without private investment in the necessary infrastructure to provide mobile telephony and internet services.

Cuba remains the third worst rated Latin American country in the International Telecommunication Union's global ICT development ranking, with only Honduras and Nicaragua below it.

However, it appears that change in the Cuban telecoms sector may be coming. The apparent activation of the submarine cable comes shortly after other significant announcements, including plans to introduce a new charging system for mobile-to-mobile calls on February 10, and to install a fiber optic network along the train system in order to streamline operations through modernized communications.

The activation of the submarine cable also occurred on the same day that Cuba eliminated the requirement of an exit visa for citizens to travel abroad, Renesys noted.

Cuban President Raúl Castro has previously said that he will reduce state expenditure in the country in favor of private participation in the economy, and genuine liberalization of the telecoms sector may be expected to occur slowly over the next 5-10 years.