Cuba finally switches on undersea cable

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Cuba appears to have turned on the first submarine cable to connect it to the internet, nearly two years after it was completed.

According to internet monitoring firm Renesys, the cable's finally been activated - but appears to be carrying traffic in one direction only. While data's going in, it's not coming out. Renesys has deduced this from the fact that latencies have fallen significantly, but not enough to imply two-way traffic.

The cable - the Alternativa Bolivariana para los Pueblos de nuestra América, or ALBA-1, was constructed following a 2007 deal between the state-owned telecoms companies of Cuba and Venezuela.

But while construction was completed in February 201, Cuba continued to link to the internet using satellite services from three different providers - until now. Spanish telecom giant Telefonica has started service to Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba (ETECSA), the state telecom of Cuba.

"We believe it is likely that Telefonica's service to ETECSA is, either by design or misconfiguration, using its new cable asymmetrically (i.e., for traffic in only one direction), similar to the situation we observed in Lebanon in 2011," says senior researcher Doug Madory of Renesys.

"In such a configuration, ETECSA enjoys greater bandwidth and lower latencies (along the submarine cable) when receiving internet traffic but continues to use satellite services for sending traffic."

However, despite the activation of the cable, ordinary Cubans aren't likely to get much more access to the internet than they have at the moment. While internet cafes exist, access costs as much as $6 an hour - almost half a basic monthly wage. Partly as a result of this, the country has the second-lowest level of internet connectivity in the world.