In the beginning of 2011, an undersea fiber-optic cable was deployed between Venezuela and Cuba, a connection aimed at dramatically improving Cuba's telephone and Internet services. Officials of the two countries launched the project in a ceremony at Venezuela's Camuri beach near the port of La Guaira, where the cable was suspended from buoys behind the French-flagged ship used to run the cable along the sea floor to Cuba.
Alcatel-Lucent SA of Paris carried out the project for the two countries' state telecommunications companies. Cuban officials said it expected the cost to reach about US$70 million (Cuba’s state-owned Juventud Rebelde newspaper reported that the cable installation is being handled by “the french-chinese company Alcatel Shanghai Bell” (“la empresa franco-china Alcatel Shanghai Bell“).
The cable spans about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across the Caribbean Sea to Siboney in eastern Cuba. A second segment of about 150 miles (245 kilometers) extends from Cuba to nearby Jamaica.
Cuba is the only nation in the Western Hemisphere that was not linked to the outside world by optical fiber. Instead, it relied on slow, expensive satellite links because the U.S. government's embargo prevented most trade between the island and the United States and has made companies in other countries shy away from doing business with Cuba.
The cable is one of many joint projects promoted by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a close ally of Cuba's communist government. It is dubbed “ALBA-1,” after the Bolivarian Alternative bloc that includes Venezuela, Cuba and other left-leaning allies.
Cuban Ambassador Rogelio Polanco praised Chavez's government for what he called a historic connection that is “breaking the United States' criminal blockade against our country” in telecommunications.
U.S. President Barack Obama's administration loosened some embargo restrictions in 2009, opening possibilities for cooperation with Cuba in telecommunications.
Yet one proposal by Florida company TeleCuba Communications Inc. to lay a fiber-optic cable a much shorter distance — from Key West to Cuba — was held up because U.S. regulators balked at the Cuban government's demand that companies connecting calls to the island pay the Cuban phone company 84 cents per minute.
The U.S. government approved a maximum of 60 cents per minute. TeleCuba has asked the Federal Communications Commission for permission to pay Cuba 84 cents per minute, saying that would improve call quality and reduce current prices since calls are now routed through other countries at higher cost.
Late in 2010, Alcatel-Lucent (Euronext Paris and NYSE: ALU) announced that it was selected by Compañia Anónima Nacional Teléfonos de Venezuela (CANTV), the leading Venezuelan telecommunications provider, as the major supplier for its national fiber optic network expansion project. The network is part of a countrywide infrastructure development plan that will dramatically expand Venezuela’s broadband capacity and ensure nationwide access to high-speed Internet, voice, video and data services.
As part of the agreement, Alcatel-Lucent will deploy 2,705 kilometers of fiber in the Central Western region of Venezuela -- the largest portion of the 5,800 km network expansion. The project will be implemented in phases over two years with Alcatel-Lucent providing equipment, project management, detailed design engineering, fiber optic and passive elements sourcing, installation, acceptance tests and training. The initial phase of the project has already started.
This project will expand the Venezuelan national fiber optic network to reach 20,000 km and provide some 12 million Venezuelans, residing in 19 states, with simultaneous access to multiple high-definition TV channels, video on demand, SMS, voice and high-speed Internet access.
“We have both the technology and the right people in place to deliver on the Venezuelan government’s vision for universal broadband connectivity,” said Osvaldo Di Campli, head of Alcatel-Lucent activities in the Caribbean and Latin America region. “This network expansion provides CANTV with the capacity it needs to reliably provide Venezuelans with a world-class broadband user experience.”
The CANTV project reinforces Alcatel-Lucent’s commitment to Venezuela, a country where it has many years of experience providing the best in class and most advanced telecommunications technology, in line with the company’s mission of helping build a more communicated and better connected world.