01/22/13 - PC Magazine - Censorship Isn't What's Slowing Cuba's New Internet Connection
In February of 2011, Cuba completed the island nation's first submarine
fiber-optic cable connection which should have granted greatly increased speeds
for Cuban web users. Now Renesys, the self-styled Internet intelligence
authority, reports that the cable finally became active last week, though not in
a normal way.
The cable, called "Alternativa Bolivariana para los Pueblos de nuestra América"
(ALBA-1), links Cuba to the international Internet by way of Venezuela, and
should have eased the burden of slow, unreliable satellite data connections used
in the country. However, Renesys found in their observations that while data
has begun flowing through the state-run "Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba
S.A." (ETECSA) from the Spanish telecom company Telefonica, data is not flowing
"We believe it is likely that Telefonica's service to ETECSA is, either by
design or misconfiguration, using its new cable asymmetrically," wrote Doug
Madory on the Renesys blog. "In such a configuration, ETECSA enjoys greater
bandwidth and lower latencies (along the submarine cable) when receiving
Internet traffic but continues to use satellite services for sending traffic."
Cuba actually has two data systems: a state-run intranet and limited access to
the international Internet. Renesys' work focuses on the latter.
What researchers are not seeing is a comprehensive filtering mechanism, like the
Great Firewall of China. Speaking to the BBC, Madory said that countries
with highly censored connections display daily patterns of latency. In these
situations, latency increases throughout the day as more and more users wake up
and come online.
"When looking at the distributions of these [Cuban] latencies over time," said
Madory, "I see no diurnal pattern."
Reporters Without Borders, which maintains a country by country list of
censorship, echoed Renesys' conclusions on their website: "the regime does
not have the means to set up a systematic filtering system, but it counts on
several factors to restrict Internet access." These include high fees for
hourly access, and national data infrastructure problems.
Those infrastructure problems may at least be a part of why ALBA-1 has taken so
long to show signs of life. It also may come from uncertainty within the
country about what to do with the new access, once it was available. It may
also be possible that the Cuban government is far more concerned with
information traveling out of Cuba, from dissident bloggers for example, than
information flowing into the country.
Whatever the reason, Cuba appears to be at a crossroads for how the entire
country will interact digitally with the rest of the world. What that will mean
is yet to be seen.
For more from Max, follow him on Twitter @wmaxeddy.
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