Undersea Cables

US committee urges FCC to block Cuba undersea cable project

Image credit: EXA Infrastructure

The Justice Department-led panel known as ‘Team Telecom’ said Cuba’s control over the telecommunications cable would raise national security concerns.

The US government committee has asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to deny an application to connect Cuba to the United States through a new undersea cable landing station to handle internet, voice and data traffic.

The project would create the only direct, commercial undersea cable connection between the two nations, and it would be owned and controlled by Cuba’s state-owned telecommunications monopoly, Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba SA (ETECSA). 

The proposal is part of the existing ARCOS-1 submarine cable system, which connects the United States with 14 countries in the Caribbean, Central America and South America and aimed to expand to a landing station in Cojimar, Cuba.

However, the expansion would require regulatory approval from the FCC. 

Team Telecom advised against granting such approval, stating that the project carries too much risk because of the Cuban government's hostility toward the United States. It added that Cuba "could access sensitive US data traversing the new cable segment." 

"The United States supports an open, interoperable, secure, and reliable internet around the world, including in Cuba. Unfortunately, the Cuban government does not share that view," Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said in a statement. 

Olsen, of the US Department of Justice's National Security Division, added that "as long as the government of Cuba poses a counterintelligence threat to the United States, and partners with others who do the same, the risks to our critical infrastructure are simply too great."

Team Telecom's dim view of the undersea cable application, which the group explained in a denial recommendation on Tuesday, comes after faltering efforts to warm relations between the nations over the past two decades, such as former President Barack Obama's lifting of restrictions on interstate money exchange, travel, trade, telecommunications and third-country financial transaction. 

In January 2016, the FCC's International Bureau said it was removing Cuba from the "Exclusion List" of countries not covered by a programme authorising carriers to operate on a near-global basis.

This is not the first time an undersea cable project has been criticised for political reasons, In 2020, Google and  Meta abandoned a proposal to build an undersea cable to Hong Kong after Team Telecom advised against it. 

In 2018, Australia’s security agency banned an undersea cable made by Chinese tech company Huawei from connecting to the Australian broadband network over fears that it could be used by China for cyber espionage. 

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