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Calling Cuba: U.S. Update
CubaNews / May 1995

By Larry Luxner

U.S. long-distance companies still won't say how many calls they're handling between the U.S. and Cuba six months after direct-dial calling began, but the companies acknowledge volume is high -- so high that at times it threatens to overload the phone system.

"The demand is overwhelming," says Larry Codacovi, MCI's director of international services. "The quality, at least into Havana, is perfect, but getting through depends on the luck of the draw. We know from the way the circuits are being used that there are lots of people who aren't lucky. We're still trying to calculate how many attempts we're getting."

MCI will soon have 120 circuits in place, but for the moment calls are being transmitted via Intelsat using one gateway switch in Pottstown, Pa., and another in Havana. AT&T, Sprint and LDDS Communications, through its WilTel and IDB Worldcom subsidiaries, are also offering direct-dial and other services to Cuba. Sprint, LDDS and WilTel are leasing lines from Comsat on Intelsat; IDB is using an Intersputnik satellite. Both Sprint and LDDS have ordered echo cancelers, DCME compression units, modems and other signaling equipment to be installed in Cuba.

AT&T has been using its undersea cable from West Palm Beach to Cojimar. Since it activated the $8 million cable in November, there have been "hundreds of thousnads of attempts" to call Cuba, says Al Quintana of AT&T's Hispanic marketing division.

But none of the companies will say how many calls are actually completed or how much revenue is being generated.

MCI, which launched its direct-dial service Nov. 29, says most calls have gone from Miami to Havana. Of the Cuba-to-Miami calls, the bulk are collect, Codacovi says. Sixty percent of the collect traffic is coming out of metropolitan Havana.

Cuba is still restricting collect calls to the U.S., permitting them only betwen 5 p.m. and 6 a.m. to avoid overtaxing the Cuban phone system. "If everybody tries to dial through at the same time, they'll block all other traffic," Codacovi says. "The real question is how much traffic can we push on the domestic network before we bring it down. We would have liked to put in hundreds more circuits than we did, but the Cuban network wouldn't have been able to handle it."

WilTel, based in Tulsa, Okla., is still planning a $10 million fiberoptic cable between Florida and a point near Havana. The 210-kilometer Cubus-1 cable is being financed by the Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund Inc., a Miami-based closed-end fund run by Thomas Herzfeld and centered on Cuba-related investments.

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