"...officials say the link-up may not provide internet-starved Cubans with greater access to the world wide web..."
Venezuela clicks in for web-starved Cubans
By Marc Frank in Havana, January 19, 2011
It has been said that the only things the Cuban government can do nothing about are the hurricanes that lash the island every year and the inexorable march of the new economy.
Cuba is the least connected country in the hemisphere. So the prospect of a fibre optic cable linking Cuba to the rest of the world, which will dramatically boost internet capacity, is potentially as big a change as Raúl Castro's new efficiency drive, which will see half a million state employees, one in 10 of the labour force, laid off this year.
Although officials say the link-up may not provide internet-starved Cubans with greater access to the world wide web, the Venezuela-sponsored link is due to reach Cuba in February and be operational by July.
In a country that currently relies on satellite transmission, the cable will increase data capacity 3,000 times and carry up to 10m international calls simultaneously.
"I have no doubt that, at least in the short term, this will do more to modernise the economy and improve our efficiency than the measures we are taking to shed excess labour and grant companies more autonomy," said a local Cuban economist who acts as a consultant to state-run companies and asked that his name not to be used.
"It also opens up new possibilities for online business."
A Chinese subsidiary of French company Alcatel-Lucent is providing the $63.4m cable. The French vessel Ile de Batz began to lay the 1,000-mile line from Venezuela this week.
"This is very, very important in terms of connectivity, it will be a change like night and day," says Cuban telecommunications engineer Antonio, who has been involved in the sector since the 1980s and asked that his surname not be used.
"Now, using videos, photos, teleconferencing and other facilities will work, and without a doubt it will be magnificent," he added.