Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Fiber-optic communications cable arrives in Cuba

    "Posted on Wednesday, 02.09.11

    Fiber-optic communications cable arrives in Cuba
    Associated Press

    — A long-awaited undersea fiber-optic cable linking Cuba with
    the outside world arrived on the island on Wednesday, promising a
    bandwidth bonanza for a country saddled with exorbitant telephone rates
    and among the slowest connection speeds on the planet.

    The cable connecting Cuba with key ally was brought ashore in
    the eastern resort of Siboney in a ceremony attended by dignitaries from
    the two countries, the state-run Prensa Latina news agency reported.

    The cable is not expected to be operational until the summer, but its
    arrival is a landmark for an island that often feels cut off from the
    outside world, 52 years after 's revolution turned it from
    decadent American playground to crumbling Soviet satellite.

    When finished, the cable is expected to increase Internet speed
    3,000-fold and be capable of handling about 80 million simultaneous
    phone calls.

    That's good news in a country where Web pages open at the speed of
    molasses oozing out of a jar. A recent report by Akamai Technologies
    Inc. said Cuba has the second slowest Internet speed in the world,
    besting only the tiny Indian Ocean-island chain of Mayotte.

    And that's for those lucky enough to have online access.

    A report last year by Cuba's National Statistics Office said only 2.9
    percent of the population had used the Internet over a 12-month period,
    most through work or – the lowest level of Internet penetration
    in the Western Hemisphere.

    Deputy Information Minister Jorge Luis Perdomo told reporters at a
    technology conference this week that, for now at least, Cubans would
    continue to be able to connect solely through their jobs or through school.

    He said the limitations were not the result of any political concern
    over what increased connectivity will mean, but rather a product of the
    sorry infrastructure on the island and the time it will take to improve it.

    Still, widespread Internet activity is sure to be a wild card on an
    island with a state-controlled media, a closed political system and
    where opposition groups are often marginalized or worse.

    Last week a video began circulating on blogs – including one maintained
    by well-known activist Yoani Sanchez – that appears to show an Interior
    Ministry official warning a group of government employees that Cuba's
    enemies hope to use the Internet to attack the island.

    "We are not 'fighting' new technology," the official says. "But we must
    understand it, use it in our interest, and know what our enemy means to
    do with it."

    The official repeatedly brings up the case of Alan , a 61-year-old
    American subcontractor detained in Cuba since December 2009 on suspicion
    of spying. Washington has said he was distributing communication
    equipment to the Jewish community. Cuban prosecutors are seeking a
    20-year jail term.

    The man in the video, who was not identified, said Gross was carrying
    satellite phones and technology that would have created unauthorized
    Internet networks.

    "Technology in itself is not a threat," the man says. "The threat is
    what is done, or what can be done, using technology."

    Cuba has had no reaction to the video, nor has it confirmed its

    The fiber-optic cable project is being carried out by Alcatel-Lucent SA
    of Paris for the state telecommunications companies of Cuba and
    Venezuela. Cuban officials have said it is expected to cost about $70
    million, and be functional in June or July. A second segment will extend
    from Cuba to nearby Jamaica.

    Cuba relies on slow, expensive satellite links because the U.S.
    government's 48-year has prevented most trade between the island
    and the and has made companies in other countries shy away
    from doing business with Cuba.

    Cubans have high hopes for the cable, despite warnings that things will
    not change quickly.

    "I think it is fantastic," said Lazaro More, a musician who twice a week
    goes to a Havana "cybercafe" that allows access to a limited number of
    internal Web sites and e-mail options. He spends $3 for two hours of
    service, a fortune for many since Cubans earn an average of just $20 a

    "I am sure this will make it a lot easier for Cubans to communicate with
    the rest of the world," he said.

    Associated Press writer Paul Haven contributed to this report.