HAVANA – Cuba's state telecom monopoly confirmed Thursday that the island's first hard-wired Internet connection to the outside world has been activated, but said it won't lead to an immediate increase in access.
In a statement published in Communist Party newspaper Granma and other official media, ETECSA broke its long silence on the ALBA-1 fiber-optic cable, which island officials once boasted would increase capacity 3,000-fold.
Until now Cuba's Internet has been strictly via ponderous satellite links, and out of reach for the great majority of islanders. ETECSA said the new cable has been operational since August, initially carrying international voice calls, and the company has been conducting data traffic tests on the cable since Jan. 10.
"When the testing process concludes, the submarine cable being put into operation will not mean that possibilities for access will automatically multiply," ETECSA said.
"It will be necessary to invest in internal telecommunications infrastructure," the company said, adding that even then the goal is "gradual growth of a service that we offer mostly for free and with social aims in mind."
The $70 million ALBA-1 arrived on the island from Venezuela in February 2011 to great hoopla, but officials soon stopped mentioning the cable amid rumors of mismanagement and corruption involving the project.
Its status was unknown until this week, when U.S. Internet analysis firm Renesys documented evidence of faster data traffic to Cuba and concluded that the cable had been switched on.
Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, an advocate for wider Internet dissemination, questioned whether the government would have said anything about the cable if Renesys and foreign media had not reported about it.
"#Granma says now it's necessary to build infrastructure for the #FiberOpticCable to provide service!" she tweeted. "And what were they doing the past two years?"
Cuba has the second-worst Internet connectivity rate in the world, according to one study.
According to government statistics, about 16 percent of islanders have some online access, usually through their school or workplace and often just to an Intranet that also has email capability.
Just 2.9 percent of Cubans report having full access to the World Wide Web. However outside observers say the true number is more like 5 to 10 percent accounting for underreporting of dial-up minutes resold on the black market.