Cuba’s undersea cable links promises more connectivity

Cuba finally gets a cable connection to the Internet, will it make a difference?

aNewDomain.net—The first networking organization in Cuba was CENIAI, the National Center of Automated Data Exchange, which in 1982 began with connections to Soviet and European databases and very limited email. By 1992, CENIAI was offering email and Usenet News, a worldwide-threaded discussion service. In January 2013 Cuba got its undersea cable connection to the Internet followed by a link to Jamaica in May 2013. It took more than 10 years to finally get Cuba connected.

In 1995, Cuba was arguably the leading network nation in the Caribbean. CENIAI and three other networks with international Usenet links transferred more than 60 Mbytes of international data per month and had nearly 2,600 users.

Usenet brought the CENIAI staff into contact with early networking and Internet community. They could not get exit visas to travel outside of Cuba, but they could become full-fledged members of a community that interacted in cyberspace.

Cuba CENIAI Staff

A photo sent to me years ago by then CENIAI staff member
Oscar Visiedo. Images Credit Larry Press.

With the help of the United States National Science Foundation, Cuba established its first persistent Internet link in September 1996. When a new nation came online in those days, it was customary to send a first email to the community. The first email, sent by CENIAI Director Jesus Martinez, expressed pride and optimism.

After so many days, years of sacrifice and vigilance, I have great satisfaction to announce that our beloved Cuba, our ‘caiman of the Indies,’ has been connected to the Internet as we had desired. We have a 64 Kbps link to Sprint in the U.S.” and after thanking colleagues, he concluded “A new era has just begun for us. We will soon announce our Web site and value-added services to do as much as we can to help develop our region and our culture.

But, Jesus’ dream has not been realized. Cuba’s total international bandwidth as of 2010 was only 209 Mbps upstream and 379 down. To put that in context, 11 million Cubans were sharing a link that was about 20 times faster than the link from my house to the Internet.

This paltry capacity was due to the fact that Cuba’s only connection to the Internet was via satellite – there was no undersea cable.

Cuba Jamaica Map

In 2007, a $70 million dollar undersea cable project to connect Cuba with Venezuela was announced. After several delays and charges of corruption, traffic was detected on the ALBA-1 undersea cable in January 2013.

The cable project included a second link to Jamaica, which became operational in May 2013.

Now that Cuba has an undersea Internet link to the outside world – will it change anything? We’ll look at the impact of that in a subsequent post.

Larry Press
Based in Los Angeles, Larry Press is a senior editor at aNewDomain.net and a professor of information systems at California State University at Dominguez Hills. Email him at [email protected]
Larry Press
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