Lifestyle & Belief

Cuba may have activated submarine internet cable — but reports are varied


Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez during an interview with news wire AFP in Havana, on May 6, 2008.


Adalberto Roque

Has Cuba connected to the world internet?

Activity from an undersea fiber optic cable owned by Cuba seems to be picking up, and some are suspecting as much.

But since the traffic is likely only one-way, it may be premature to herald Cuba's entry into the world wide web.

Cuba constructed an undersea cable connecting it to the world internet via Venezuela two years ago, but doesn't appear to have done anything with it until now, writes bloggers for Renesys, the Internet Intelligence Authority.

By all accounts, they continued to rely on a wonky high latency satellite service, funneled through three different ISPs.

Read more from GlobalPost: Cuba opens the gates, hoping for a trickle, not a flood

But then, Renesys began to pick up indications that the Cuban cable was finally being used, albeit in one direction only.

In other words, Cuba may be receiving signals more quickly, but sending them out at the same sluggish pace.

GlobalPost's senior correspondent in Cuba, Nick Miroff, reports:

There hasn't been any noticeable improvement to Cuba's dial-up internet service so far, and that's the only way to get online here, with a few exceptions.

Still, if the routing company's analysis is accurate, it could be the first sign of a Great Leap Forward for the country that ranks as the least-connected in the Western Hemisphere.

The island's internet usage rates and connection speeds are lower than most countries in sub-Saharan Africa — perhaps not surprising for a country with an oppressive communist past.

But even if Cuba has finally flipped the switch, island internet users will have to wait to see the benefits, Miroff reports.

"Only foreigners and privileged Cubans are allowed to access the web from their homes, and again, that's via dial-up. There are no internet cafes along Havana boulevards, and the only way most web users here can go online is by going to a tourist hotel and paying rates far beyond the means of ordinary Cubans," Miroff said.

Cuban authorities have said they're going to prioritize 'social access' to the web, meaning their plan is to wire up schools, libraries, workplaces and other institutions first.

But many here will also be eager to see if the state telecom finally allows Cubans to get data service on their mobile devices. Even as late model iPhones and other flashy mobile devices have become a status symbol here, they're only good for making phone calls and text messages.

Will the government change that, and bring Cuba in the 21st century? Maybe. But then again, that's what seemed to be happening two years ago when the cable was completed. And Cubans are still waiting.

Renesys reportedly picked up the signal that the cable may be in effect on the same day that Cuba ceased to require exist visas for its nationals when they traveled overseas — another possible sign that a long-awaited liberalization of the Cuban economy may soon be afoot under Raul Castro's leadership.

Read more from GlobalPost: How the US keeps Cuba offline

It's unclear what effect the exist visa liberalization will have on the Cuban economy, although the Telegraph reported a number of phone-calls from Cubans to foreign embassies earlier this month, hoping to take advantage of the new rules.

Cuba is known for being none-too-friendly for dissident bloggers, as evidenced by the October arrest of Yoani Sanchez, an outspoken critic of the government and the mind behind the widely acclaimed Generation Y blog.

Nick Miroff contributed to this report from Havana.