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Cuba turns on fiber-optic IT link to Venezuela

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An undersea fiber-optic cable stretching from Cuba to Venezuela has been switched on, in the first hard-wired link from the communist-run island to international telecom networks, the state telecom agency announced Thursday. 

Divers from the Venezuelan state-run oil company PDVSA work on the installation of a fiber optic cable between their country and Cuba, in the coastal city of La Guaria, some 40 km from Caracas, on January 22, 2011. An undersea fiber-optic cable stretching from Cuba to Venezuela has been switched on, in the first hard-wired link from the communist-run island to international telecom networks.

Havana has been unable to join other undersea fiber-optic cable networks due to a US embargo.

But state telecom company Etecsa said the new Internet link, which also extends to Jamaica, would not mean the island was lifting its restrictions on Internet access.

"Since last January 10, we began to perform quality testing of Internet traffic on the system. They are conducted using real traffic to and from Cuba," Etecsa said in a statement published in the state-run Granma newspaper.

The 1,600-kilometer (994-mile) cable, estimated to cost $70 million, was actually completed in February 2011 and was due to come into operation in July 2011. However, officials never explained why it remained unused.

In its statement, Etecsa said the cable has been "operational since August 2012," and was initially tested with international telephone traffic.

But it warned that the "conclusion of the testing process ... will not automatically mean an increase in access" for Cubans to the Internet.

"It will be necessary to make investments in the domestic telecommunications infrastructure and increase foreign exchange resources to pay for Internet traffic in order to achieve the gradual growth of a service we provide mostly for free today," Etecsa said.

A US embargo bans Cuban access to underwater Internet cables, one of which runs from Miami to Cancun, Mexico, a mere 32 kilometers (20 miles) from Havana.

Because of this, Cuba had connected to the Internet via slower satellites. The government has blamed the limited bandwidth for restrictions on Internet access, saying it forces them to "prioritize" it for "social use" purposes, with universities, companies and research centers favored.

Dissidents have said the government's true goal is to control access to information.

The lack of details explaining the cable's operational delay also sparked reactions.

"Remember, the cable has a lifespan of 25 years. The clock is ticking," the official blogger Arian Perez wrote on his blog earlier this month.

The project is considered one of the most ambitious examples of cooperation between the close allies in Caracas and Havana, where Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is convalescing following cancer surgery in December.

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