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Cuba may have turned on its first underwater internet cable — for incoming traffic only

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Cuba seems to have started accepting internet traffic through an underwater cable, not just the slow and limited satellites it's relied on for years. Traffic monitoring company Renesys said yesterday that it had detected a new connection between Spanish ISP Telefonica and the state-owned Cuban telecommunications company, with lower latencies than would be possible through the aging satellite system — though overall speeds are still quite slow. That would be a first step towards real connectivity in a country with the worst internet in Latin America, even if it's still unlikely ordinary people would be able to get access.

Like North Korea, Cuba limits most people to a local, more tightly controlled intranet. What's more, Renesys reports that this new connection is only operational in one direction: whether by design or mistake, traffic can come in via cable, but outgoing information must use the slower satellite system. The cable that's likely being used runs from Cuba to Venezuela; it was first announced in 2009 and meant to be operational around 2011, connecting Cuba to the larger underwater network.

By accident or design, outgoing traffic seems to still be going over satellite

For years, though, its actual status has been a mystery. In mid-2012, the Miami Herald reported that it was operational but only being used for strategic government communications, while Reuters reported soon after that there was no evidence the cable was in use. Cuba has previously blamed its poor internet connectivity on the US embargo. Now, Renesys notes that it started noticing traffic on the cable the same day Cuba dropped its requirement for exit visas, saying it could be part of a general move towards greater openness. But as we've seen elsewhere, technological progress doesn't always lead to more political or social freedom in the short term.