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A Chinese vessel has arrived in eastern Cuba after several weeks of survey work on a route for Cuba's first high-speed data link to the outside world, according to Cuban government news agencies. The long-awaited undersea fiber optic cable would give the island 3,000 times more bandwidth than its current satellite connections, according to reports, and the $70 million Cuba-Venezuela joint venture will be completed some time early next year.
Maps show the 1,630-kilometer cable linking the Venezuelan mainland to eastern Cuba via Jamaica. With a data capacity of 646 gigabytes, the undersea cable will dramatically boost the island's bandwidth — and raise expectations about expanded internet access for ordinary Cubans. The island currently has some of the lowest levels of web access in the hemisphere, and Cuban officials have long blamed U.S. trade sanctions for limiting Cubans' connectivity. Less than 2 percent of Cuban homes have web access, government data shows, and most are achingly slow dial-up connections.
Cuba could link up to U.S. data networks at much lower cost, and an American-owned undersea cable in the Gulf of Mexico passes a short distance from Havana. The Obama administration has authorized U.S. telecommunications companies to link up to Cuba, but so far the Cuban government has balked at making deals, citing unresolved legal issues between the two countries.