Cuba: Why Expand and Diversify International Connectivity?

Cuba: Why Expand and Diversify International Connectivity?
Fecha de publicación: 
8 September 2023
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A few days ago, the First Vice Minister of Communications of Cuba, Wilfredo González Vidal, in an interview with the Cuban News Agency, reported that the United States government prevents Cuba from connecting to international telecommunications networks through fiber optic cables.

While on the one hand it accuses the Cuban government of limiting the free flow of information for citizens, on the other hand it hinders access to internet, the use of information, the exchange and creation of knowledge.

Approaching this topic we’ll talk with Daniel Ramos Fernández, director of digital business of the Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) and an expert in computer systems and cybersecurity.

It’s important to remember that in November 2022 the U.S. Department of Justice recommended to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that it deny a permit for the installation of an underwater telecommunications cable between the two countries, using the false pretext that our country represents a threat to the U.S. The ARCOS-1 USA Inc. underwater cable system was then prevented from including Cuba in that network, which connects 24 landing points in 15 countries on the continent.

- For an objective analysis of this issue, there are precedents that can’t be ignored. In the period from 1921 to 1989 between Cuba and the United States, seven telephone cables were laid in order to promote communications between the two countries; but starting in 1959, cable communications were blocked by the American government, to the point where they were definitively interrupted in 1986.

At that time, fiber optic cables began to proliferate and until today it has been impossible to connect with any of the dozens of cables that pass through the surroundings of our territory.

In 1919, the Cuban Telephone and the American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) were associated in the Cuban – American Telephone and Telegraph Company, a company whose main declared objective was to establish between Cuba and the United States a transmission system that would allow interconnect the long-distance telephone lines of the two countries. Three cables were laid between Havana and Key West, with sufficient capacity to simultaneously transmit a telephone channel and at least two duplex telegraph circuits. This work took two weeks and was completed on February 25, 1921. Of the three cables, the shortest was 185.8 km long, while the lengths of the cables to the east and west of it were of 194.6 km and 193.4 km, respectively.

Taking into account the rapid increase in telephone traffic between Cuba and the United States in the second half of the 1920s, a fourth submarine cable, 206 kilometers long, was laid between Havana and Key West in 1930, with a capacity for 7 telephone channels.

In 1950, two new cables were laid between Havana and Key West (called Nos. 5 and 6), with a length of 213 and 232 kilometers, not only with a view to covering the future increase in Cuba-United States telephone traffic, but also, to test, under regular operating conditions, the behavior of a new technology based on the use of cables with repeaters submerged at great depths (1).

- Since 1986, AT&T began negotiating with the US government for authorization to lay an analogue submarine cable between the two countries that would replace the obsolete tropospheric system, susceptible to total interruption at any time.

In mid-1988, authorizations were obtained to lay the submarine cable while continuing to apply the technological blockade to Cuba, since it was a section of cable with outdated technology, recovered from the bottom of the sea after being replaced in the Atlantic, and with a capacity of only 143 circuits, when the needs for existing traffic were much higher. Despite this technological discrimination, the Cuban government also authorized the cable in one more effort to maintain communications.

In 1989, after several months dedicated to prospecting, projection, preparation, laying of the cable and tuning of the stations, the installation of the analog submarine cable system between Cuba-USA, called cable No. 7, was completed. This cable was never put into service because the US government did not approve a fair, reasonable, equitable telecommunications service agreement in accordance with current international standards between the operators of both countries.

The economic, commercial, and technological blockade imposed on Cuba since the same year 1959, prevented in all these years to improve and expand the cable telephone links between both nations.
- The expansion and diversification of international connectivity is vital to strengthen the nation's sovereignty and respond to the growing demand for Internet services and access by the Cuban population.

We are no longer in the conditions of 2011 when the Cuba-Venezuela submarine cable became operational, when the country's bandwidth was only 413 Megabit input and 229 Megabit output. The largest Cuban network, Infomed, with more than 100,000 users, had only 16 Megabit in the internet channel and the Joven Club, with more than 600 installations throughout the national territory, 6 Megabit. By the way, at that time collective access prevailed and satellite-based connections were used, which were not only more expensive but also had less broadband, making the connections slower.

However, with the objective of expanding and diversifying the capabilities of Cuba's Internet connection and broadband services, in April this year tests began on the cable laid between the Tricontinental port of Cienfuegos, in the south of the island and Martinique, with an extension of 2,500 km, in addition to the station that will give strength to the connection. All with the technical quality and the required technological security measures. This investment complements the ALBA-1 cable system and ensures that in the event of failure in any of the cables, high availability of communication is guaranteed.

- In addition to satisfying the growing demand for connectivity of the Cuban population and the economy, this investment strengthens the bases to advance in the process of computerization of society and the digital transformation, which also requires investments in the domestic infrastructure of country telecommunications.

Translated by Amilkal Labañino / CubaSí Translation Staff


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