Havana: Cuba held a ceremony Wednesday to mark the arrival of an undersea fiber-optic cable from Venezuela - a link expected to provide a big boost to Internet speed and capacity on the island.
Official media said among those on hand for the ceremony in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba were Vice President Ramiro Valdes, the secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, Hamadou Toure, and a representative of the Venezuelan government.
Toure had travelled to Cuba for a computer science fair in Havana.
The ship that brought the cable ashore, the Ile de Batz, arrived on Cuba`s eastern coast Tuesday after a 19-day voyage from Venezuela.
Cuban Computer Science and Communications Minister Medardo Diaz said the undersea cable "opens a breach in the (economic) blockade" that the US has imposed on the island and bolsters "national sovereignty" in telecommunications.
Wilfredo Morales, president of Telecomunicaciones Gran Caribe S.A., the Cuban-Venezuelan joint venture that owns the line, said the project has gone according to schedule and the cable should be operational in July.
The cable - which began to be laid Jan 22 in northern Venezuela - will give Cuba an alternative to its current, painfully slow satellite link.
Acquired in China and France at an estimated cost of $70 million, the cable spans 1,630 km from a spot near Venezuela`s La Guaira port to the eastern Cuban town of Siboney. A second segment will run 230 km from Cuba to Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
The cable, which has a 640-gigabyte capacity and a lifespan of 25 years, is expected to provide a 3,000-fold increase in Cuba`s voice, data and video transmission speeds, experts say.
But Cuban officials say that even after the link has been established more investment in infrastructure and networks will be needed to improve Internet and telephone service on the island.
Cuba says its priority will be to continue to build public telecenters and improve Internet access at schools, hospitals and scientific institutions.
Presently, only a small number of academics, journalists and other professionals in Cuba have access to the Internet from their homes.
The island has relied on a slow and expensive satellite link since 1996, and the government has pointed to the capacity limitations of that connection in justifying restrictions on individual access to the Web.
The Cuban government says the US embargo is the primary reason why Internet service is generally unavailable to most Cubans.
The arrival of the undersea cable coincides with an apparent move by the Cuban government to unblock access - for the moment, at least - to Internet blogs critical of the government, including Yoani Sanchez`s "Generacion Y".