Friday, November 26, 2010

Backpacks, broadband and Alan Gross

Setting up broadband is easy, according to YouTube video

Several sources have said that Alan Gross, the American who has been held in jail in Cuba since December 2009, brought satellite communication gear to the island. The sources have said he was carrying equipment that can be used to set up a Broadband Global Area Network, or BGAN for short.
BGAN is a global satellite Internet network. You can use it to establish a broadband Internet from anywhere in the world. You can also make phone calls, send e-mail messages and set up a WiFi network. And the equipment fits in a backpack.
The YouTube video, above, shows how easy it is to set up a BGAN system. I used a similar system while covering the fighting in Afhganistan after the Sept. 11 attacks and it really wasn't too complicated to operate.
BGAN equipment is relatively inexpensive. I searched on eBay and found one BGAN terminal on sale for $1,150.
The connection time can be expensive. Tempest Telecom, for instance, charges about $1 per minute for phone calls, $10 per megabyte transferred via broadband, plus a monthly fee of about $40. I think those rates are probably typical. The company also offers an unlimited usage plan. Price: $2,500 per month.
That's about 100 times the average salary in Cuba, so I presume Uncle Sam would foot the bill for any BGAN connections.

1 comment:

John McAuliff said...

Messages sent on BGAN do not go through local servers and can be encrypted leading to suspicion by people responsible to protect national security.

Assume for the sake of argument that Alan Gross had only the best of motives to help the Jewish community and provide an easier channel for international communication which is slow and costly on Cuba's satellite linked internet system. However he had no control over what could be sent through the BGANs at any time of the day or night by dissidents, anti-government bloggers, allies of Miami extremists or even for covert intelligence purposes.

Judy Gross has argued that the fact the equipment cleared customs meant it was legal. Does a BGAN look like a lap top under x-ray? Cuban customs haven't objected to visitors bringing in one or two laptops since it became legal for Cubans to have a personal computer.

Since Cuban authorities were presumably watching Alan, not least because of the frequency of his visits, there may have been instructions to not impede his entry in order to monitor what he did with the equipment he brought.

We know as Americans that our own government has the ability to monitor with high tech equipment and computer software plus a large national security bureaucracy every e-mail message and phone call for the purpose of protecting us from terrorist plots.

Their counterparts in Cuba will do the same to protect their country from suspected private and official subversion from abroad, particularly from the institutionally hostile US.

It should not be a surprise that they do not take kindly to efforts to bypass their surveillance.

John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development