Rubio urges U.S. to deny request for undersea internet cable connecting Miami and Cuba

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is urging the Federal Communications Commission to deny a request to extend a submarine internet cable connection between South Florida and Cuba, the first of its kind, because of the risk that the Cuban government could use it for intelligence purposes.

A committee led by the Justice Department comprising the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Department has already recommended that the FCC deny the application, citing the counterintelligence threat posed by Cuba.

If approved, the cable extension would link North Miami Beach and Cojimar, a coastal town east of Havana, as part of ARCOS-1, a network of submarine cables connecting 15 countries, including the United States and several nations in the Caribbean, Central and South America.

“Establishing a U.S.-Cuba undersea cable connection would provide the repressive, communist regime in Cuba a significant conduit for espionage and intelligence activities against the U.S,” Rubio wrote in the letter addressed to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

Rubio also noted that the Cuban end of the system would be owned and operated by ETECSA, the Cuban state telecommunications company, so the Cuban government would be in a position to access U.S. data.

“This would be tantamount to handing over sensitive U.S. communications to a regime notorious for its extreme censorship and suppression of internet freedom,” he said.

ARCOS-1 USA Inc. and A.SurNet Inc., the companies that hold an existing cable-landing license for the ARCOS-1 Cable System, are Delaware corporations with their principal place of business in Miami. They are part of a web of telecommunications companies ultimately owned by Liberty Latin America Ltd., an international provider of cable and telecommunications services headquartered in Bermuda, whose chairman and largest voting shareholder is American billionaire John C. Malone.

There’s an existing fiber-optic cable between Dania Beach and the U.S. Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, and another one connecting the base to Puerto Rico. But the ARCOS-1 project would be the first commercial internet cable linking the two countries.

ARCOS-1 USA Inc. initially applied to add the undersea connection to Cuba in 2018 and again on October 2021, according to the official documentation.

After its review, the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector, also known as Team Telecom, advised the FCC to shut down the project.

“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “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.”

In its recommendations, the committee concluded that the Cuban government would be able to collect all U.S. communications and sensitive data flowing through that cable segment.

“Given the significant counterintelligence threat that the Government of Cuba presents to the United States and its close relationships with the PRC [People’s Republic of China], Russia, and other foreign adversaries, this application presents an unacceptable and immitigable risk to U.S. national security and law enforcement interests,” the committee wrote in its November 29 opinion.

Rubio echoed those arguments in his letter to the FCC, saying “the Cuban regime’s relationship with near-peer adversaries, such as the Chinese Communist Party and the Putin regime, should make approval of this deal a nonstarter.”

Team Telecom also noted that ETECSA could misroute traffic destined for places outside Cuba and reroute it “over this cable into Cuban territory and the Cuban government’s hands.” The committee also referred to well-documented censorship practices by ETECSA, including censoring specific words and phrases and blocking internet services during anti-government protests in 2021.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez reacted to Team Telecom’s recommendation, arguing that the “absurd and dishonest” designation of Cuba as a state that sponsors terrorism was behind it. While the terrorism designation was mentioned in the written recommendations, it was not cited by Team Telecom as one of the main reasons for the denial.

The Miami Herald could not obtain a comment from ARCOS-1 USA or A.SurNet Inc. They are listed under the same North Miami Beach address and local phone number. When the Herald called that number, a company agent who answered said she was based in Colombia, that the number was for the technical department and that she could not provide contact details for other company departments and U.S.-based employees.

According to information provided on the FCC’s website, the license application is currently under review by the State Department, one of the committee’s advisers.