16 February 2007

Fiber for Cuba

The key word here is actually China. From wsj.com:

Cuba-To-Venezuela Fiber-Optic Line To Expand Cuban Web Access

February 15, 2007 7:29 p.m.

HAVANA (AP)--A new undersea fiber-optic cable from Cuba to Venezuela should be finished within two years, a Venezuelan communications official said Thursday, dramatically expanding Cuba's Internet and telephone capacity.

Julio Duran, president of state-run Telecom Venezuela, told The Associated Press that the deal signed in late January calls for a line with a capacity of 160 gigabytes per second.

That's well over 1,000 times the capacity of Cuba's current satellite-based Internet link, which was listed as 65 megabytes per second on upload and 124 megabytes a second on download by Cuban Communications Minister Ramiro Valdes.

It will break through what Cuban officials describe as choking restrictions imposed by the U.S. embargo on Cuba, which they blame for blocking possible connections with existing privately owned fiber-optic lines in the region.

"It's a very important project, not only for Venezuela and Cuba, it's for all Latin American countries," Duran said during an interview at an informatics convention in the Cuban capital, Havana.

The project was part of a series of agreements signed late last month as Venezuela's socialist President Hugo Chavez moved toward firmer political and economic ties with his Cuban ally.

Duran declined to give a possible cost for the 1,552-kilometer link, saying it was still under study. But he said officials were speaking with companies from China and Europe for fiber-optic line or other assistance.

He said contracts could be signed by the end of April and the project itself should be finished in "less than two years."

Interconnect points should allow other countries in the Caribbean or Central America to hook up as well.

Duran, whose company is partnering with a Cuban state enterprise, said cable "is going to bring Venezuela a lot of benefits" by making communications with Cuba easier.

"We already have benefited from the health, education and cultural support of the Cuban people," he said, referring to some 20,000 Cuban workers carrying out medical, education and other projects in the South American nation.

Cuba has one of the region's lowest rates of Internet usage. Officials say that is because the current bandwidth restrictions and U.S. threats against foreign suppliers of technology to Cuba force them to give priority to schools, researchers and essential businesses. Critics have accused the government of restricting Internet access to limit Cubans' exposure to criticism or information from abroad.

Duran also said that Venezuela's decision to nationalize the country's main telecommunications company, Compania Anonima Nacional Telefonos de Venezuela, or CANTV, might eventually lead to a merger with his own company.

CANTV focuses services along the heavily populated coastal regions while Telecom Venezuela has aimed at expanding service to more rural regions. "We're complementary companies," he said. "We can work in parallel and then be merged later on."

Venezuela's government this week signed a deal to buy the CANTV stake owned by U.S.-based Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ).

A beachhead in Cuba gives the Chinese better proximity to U.S. nodes.