US–Cuba subsea cable link in jeopardy over national security fears


The US Department of Justice (DoJ) has recommended to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that they deny a permit for the Americas Region Caribbean Ring System (ARCOS-1) to connect to Cuba

This week, the US DoJ’s special purpose committee known as ‘Team Telecom’ has urged the FCC to reject an application that would see a submarine cable route link the USA directly with Cuba for the first time.

The ARCOS-1 spans roughly 8,400km in a ring across the Caribbean Sea, connecting 15 countries in the region, but notably not Cuba.

The system has been in service since 2001 and it is only in the last few years that an extension linking to Cuba has been considered.

Following the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the US government banned its citizens from doing business with Cuba. Since then, these restrictions have been gradually reduced, with the FCC removing the last barrier to a US–Cuba cable in 2016.

As a result, the ARCOS-1 consortium proposed adding a Cuban branch to the system in 2018, officially filing for specific permission from the FCC last year.

While this link to ARCOS-1 would be the first commercial subsea link between the two countries, it is worth noting that there is already a non-commercial subsea cable system that connects the USA to Cuba: the GTMO-1 cable, linking Florida to the infamous US naval base at Guantanamo Bay. The GTMO-PR system also links the base directly to Puerto Rico.

However, these two cables are fully owned and operated by the US, which circumvents Team Telecom’s main misgivings about the new ARCOS-1 link.

The issue stems from the fact that Cuba’s state-run operator Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (Etecsa) would manage the cable’s Cuban landing station, therefore potentially giving the Cuban government access to sensitive US data.

“As long as the Government of Cuba continues to be a counterintelligence threat to the United States and is allied with others who are the same, the risks to our infrastructure are simply too great,” said Deputy Homeland Security Attorney Matthew G. Olsen in a statement.

The FCC’s decision on the matter is expected next year.

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