A specialized ship began laying fiber-optic cable under the Caribbean Sea from Venezuela toward Cuba this past weekend, launching a $70 million project to connect the communist island nation with better phone and Internet service. Internet access in Cuba currently has to go through satellites to get around U.S. embargo restrictions, which ends up being costly and slow.
The new fiber-optic cable is being laid by a French-flagged ship from the company Alcatel-Lucent, and paid for jointly by the Venezuelan and Cuban state telecommunications companies. The cable is expected to stretch 1,000 miles underwater and hook up to Cuba next month, with computers going online there -- at a connection speed 3,000 times faster than before -- sometime this summer.
In addition, a 150-mile extension of the cable will eventually connect Cuba to nearby Jamaica, the Havana Times reported.
Officials from Cuba and its most prominent ally, Venezuela, touted the fiber-optic project as a slap in the face to America's embargo on Cuba, which has largely kept the tiny communist island out of the broadband era, prohibiting any U.S. tech companies from doing business in Cuba.
"This means a giant step for the independence and sovereignty of our people," Rogelio Polanco, Cuba's ambassador to Caracas, said at a festive ceremony to mark the ship's departure from a Venezuelan port, The Guardian reported. The pomp-filled ceremony was broadcast on Venezuelan TV, showing two divers attaching the cable to the seabed to the applause of mostly Cuban and Venezuelan diplomats.
Venezuela's government minister for science and technology, Ricardo Menendez, could be heard shouting, "Venezuela's breaking the embargo!" the BBC reported.
Cuba currently has roughly one phone line for every 11 citizens, and less than 5 percent of Cubans have mobile phones, according to the CIA World Factbook. About one in 10 Cubans uses the Internet -- one of the Western Hemisphere's lowest ratios.
"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," Antonio Gonzalez-Rodiles, a scientist in Havana, told The Guardian. "A lot of things are going to have to change before Cubans will be able to navigate this sea of information."