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7/17/2008
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Cuba To Get High-Speed Internet In 2010

The undersea fiber optic cable being built from Venezuela to Cuba represents a departure from prior Cuban policy impeding Internet access.

With some rank-and-file Cubans just beginning to get a taste of high technology, albeit still slow and very expensive, they can look forward to getting high-speed Internet links in 2010, according to new documents made public this week.

Earlier this week, Wikileaks released documents signed in 2006 by officials from Cuba and Venezuela outlining plans to build a fiber optic cable between the two countries.

"The contract between the two countries, which has been independently verified, adds weight to Cuban statements that the United States economic embargo of the island has forced it to rely on slow and expensive satellite links for Internet connectivity," said Wikileaks investigative editor Julian Assange in the report. "Cuba is situated a mere 120 kilometres off the coast of Florida. The proposed 1,500 kilometre cable will connect Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, and Trinidad to the rest of the world via La Guaira, Venezuela."

The cost of the Cuba-Venezuela cable wasn't revealed, but it is expected to be several times the cost of a cable that could be strung between Havana and Florida; the Cuban government has estimated a Havana-Florida cable would cost $500,000.

High-speed Internet access for Cuban nongovernment and privileged citizens like medical professionals would represent a dramatic departure from Cuba's earlier restrictions, set in late 2003. At the time, the government cracked down on Cubans who were accessing the Internet over the government's inexpensive but painfully slow telephone service.

At the time, the government said it would act to "detect and impede access to Internet navigation service."

But times have changed. In recent months, Raul Castro, the brother of longtime Cuban ruler Fidel Castro, began to permit ordinary citizens to use cell phones, although prices of the phones are beyond the means of most Cubans.

The Wikileaks report said the Cuban documents indicate the fiber optic cable between Cuba and Venezuela would permit the transmission of data, video, and VoIP calls. The agreement would also be aimed at helping build commerce among Cuba, Venezuela, and the rest of the world.

In recent years, Cuba has focused on developing open source software and has received assistance from foreigners, including some Americans. A report published by the MIT Press in 2006 noted that free and open source software in Cuba represented "an alternative path to software self-sufficiency for a resource-scarce country like Cuba."

In 2007, MIT faculty member Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation journeyed to Cuba to promote the use of open source software. Stallman told the Cubans at a technology conference that proprietary software was not only morally wrong, but that it represents a security threat because the proprietary code can't be examined for security and privacy violations.

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