Cuba is on its way to join the high-speed broadband era with an undersea fiber-optic cable laid from Venezuela, bringing the promise of speedy Internet to one of the world’s least connected countries.
A specialized ship sailed from Camuri beach this weekend, trailing the cable from buoys on the start of a 1,000-mile journey across the Caribbean sea.
Venezuelan and Cuban officials hailed the project as a blow to the United State’s embargo on the island.
It will make Cuba’s connection speed 3,000 times faster and could help modernize its economy.
“This means a giant step for the independence and sovereignty of our people,” Rogelio Polanco, Cuba’s ambassador to Caracas, told The Guardian.
The ship will lay the cable at depths of up to 19,000 feet and is expected to reach eastern Cuba by February 8. Cuba’s government said that the cable should be in use by June or July.
Cuba has some censorship restrictions but the impact could be profound. The country has just 14.2 Internet users per 100 people, the western hemisphere’s lowest ratio, with access largely restricted to government offices, universities, foreign companies and tourist hotels.
The 50-year-old U.S. embargo prevented Cuba tapping into Caribbean fiber-optic cables, which forced it to rely on a slow, expensive satellite link of just 379 megabits per second.
Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s president, funded the $70 million cable and named it Alba-1, after the region’s Caracas-led leftwing alliance.
Improved communication is necessary to effect “historic, political and cultural change”, Ricardo Men©ndez, Venezuela’s science, technology and industry minister, told The Guardian.
The cable should boost President Raul Castro’s drive to modernize Cuba’s centrally planned economy and make state enterprises slimmer and more efficient.
Cuban officials said the priority would be improving communications for those who already had access to the island’s intranet, a government-controlled version of the Internet. Communist daily newspaper Granma reported that broadband would mean higher quality communication but not necessarily “broader” communication.
Antonio Gonzalez-Rodiles, a scientists in Havana, told The Guardian that most Cubans would still have to rely on state media for news, meaning a diet of propaganda about government successes and distorted reporting of the outside.
“I think it’s pretty unlikely they are going to let Cubans access this immense information source, given there’s no clear [state] desire to democratize our society and reduce censorship. A lot of things are going to have to change before Cubans will be able to navigate this sea of information.”