There have been a number of proposals to build submarine fiber optic cables between the United States and Cuba over the years. 

A U.S. law prohibiting doing business with Cuba following the Cuban Revolution in 1959 prevented any U.S.-Cuban cable building in the early years of the submarine fiber optic cable era.  Just before the turn of the century, during a period of hope that relations between the two countries were easing, projects were proposed, but never materialized as relations deteriorated again. 

Beginning in 2009 as relations once again improved, projects again were proposed.  In that year, a U.S. company called TeleCuba was given the first-ever authorization by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) to build a cable directly linking Florida and Cuba.  This was the first in a flurry of interest in new cables connecting Cuba; some from the U.S., others landing elsewhere in the Caribbean.  The only one of these to reach fruition was Alba-1 connecting Cuba and Venezuela, which entered service in 2013. 

Finally in 2016, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) dropped the last legal restrictions for a direct U.S.-Cuba cable. 

This brings us to the most recent announcement.  Last week, the FCC reported that ARCOS-1 USA, Inc. and A.SurNet, Inc. (ASN), two units that own the ARCOS-1 Caribbean submarine cable system through a complicated series of relationships that includes Liberty Media, Cable & Wireless Communications and Columbus Networks, had applied for a license to land a submarine cable in Cuba.

Here is what we know.  Arcos-1 is an 8,700-kilometer cable system extending throughout the Caribbean, with landings in Florida, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Curaçao, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas. 

The application calls for an extension to Cojimar, Cuba, from an existing branching unit 56 kilometers off the Cuban coast on a segment of ARCOS running from Florida to Mexico.  The cable station will be owned by Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETECSA), the incumbent, state-owned telecommunications provider in Cuba.

The extension, known as Segment 26, will consist of two fiber pairs and will have an initial capacity of 100 Gigabits per second (Gbps) and planned capacity of 1.6 Tbps.  ARCOS-1 USA Inc. and ASN and their affiliates will own 96% of the capacity on Segment 26 of the ARCOS-1 Cable, with the remaining four percent of the capacity to be offered to the 18 ARCOS-1 consortium members corresponding to the percentage commensurate with their ownership interests in the cable system.  No timeframe for completion of the project is given, but project dates are rarely included in these applications. 

It appears that ARCOS could finally become the first fiber optic cable to directly connect the U.S. and Cuba.  There are no longer any legal restrictions (barring a sudden change in U.S. policy) preventing a U.S.-Cuba cable and the project is being proposed by an established cable owner by extending an existing system. 

With a population of over 11 million and a potentially huge pent-up demand for Internet services due to government restrictions on Cubans using the Internet and the Alba-1 cable’s poor performance record, Cuba represents a promising market.  We will continue to follow the development of this project. 

We should note that when we say that this project could be the first connecting the U.S. and Cuba, we are not counting an existing cable between Florida and the U.S. Guantanamo Bay Naval Base or a cable under development from Guantanamo Bay to Puerto Rico.  These cables serve only the base and not the Cuban population, despite being on the island of Cuba.  The U.S. Guantanamo Bay Naval Base has been leased by the U.S. government since 1903 under an agreement that has no expiration date, so is essentially in perpetuity.