Gafam monopolizes underwater cables, the “vital arteries” of the Internet –

Submarine cables are the lifeline of the Internet. Almost all global data (99%) passes through these cables. Because they have this massive infrastructure, Google and others like Facebook (now Meta) dominate access to the Internet.

Global internet giants own 70% of the submarine cable sector, an industry that dates back to the invention of the telegraph. The takeover of Qabam is very recent, about a decade, and involves risks: monopoly in the transmission of information and dependence on these actors.

This is showninvestigation published in Le Monde by telecommunications expert journalist Olivier Pinaud. Answering the question at the Forum on RTS program on Monday, the journalist claims that this monopoly can be explained “very simply” by the fact that they have “a lot of money”: “Looking at Alphabet, the parent company of Google, they will have their funds at the end of 2022 They have more than 20 billion in cash, which gives them phenomenal financial strength and investment ability.

“First of all, they must have the infrastructure to transport their data,” the journalist adds. “There is only fiber optics that can carry videos, calls, etc. They needed this infrastructure. They said to themselves: “We have the money, we have the time, we have the ways to do it, why not make the investments that were once made. by telecommunications operators and not too long ago by telegraph operators?’” says Olivier Pinaud.

Map of Internet submarine cables. [RTS/DR]

Consequences of monopoly

Therefore, questions arise about the effects of such control. “It’s already a good thing that groups like Google or Meta are investing in it,” Olivier Pinaud believes. “They have money, they are doing things right. It is good to have a quality infrastructure for hosting the Internet (…) We cannot criticize them from this point of view.”

“On the other hand, the nuance journalist, right, since they came into this sector in the early 2010s – Google’s first cable is from 2011, it’s transpacific – because they’ve invested massively in the sector, they’re completely Centuries-old, with an agenda, disrupted an industry accustomed to working with cycles: 5-6 years of orders, then 5-6 years since 2010, the sector never calms down. , he observes. Always more orders, always more technology requests from Facebook or Google to manufacturers to increase capacity and power. Cables”.

This appetite for journalism has created a strain in an industry that is fairly limited in terms of the number of players worldwide. “This is one of the potential dangers of excessive activity: subcontractors and manufacturers depend only on orders from Gafam. If the latter slows down orders, subcontractors will inevitably suffer.”

Data control risk?

Another concern is mass surveillance and data control. “There is absolutely no desire to control (data), because what they are looking for is to control the traffic that passes between their different servers in order to offer the best service to their subscribers,” the journalist explains.

Today, about 500 cable lines are laid along the bottom of the sea. [RTS Géopolitis]Today, about 500 cable lines are laid along the bottom of the sea. [RTS Géopolitis]

“Knowing that the vast majority of their data originates or ends on American soil, connections to and from the United States are of strategic importance. For example, 14 of Google’s 23 data centers are located there.” Without submarine cables, Gafam would not be able to control the global internet as they do, as we can learn from Olivier Pinaud’s article published in Le Monde.

“On the other hand, (…) imagine that one day one of these actors decides, at the request of a state, for example, the United States, that it will no longer serve it because it is considered an enemy”. would create real problems (…). There is no such will today, but potentially, it is a real threat, or at least it creates dependence on these actors,” he worries at the Forum.

Not really “private”.

It would be wrong to talk about privatization, because the US still has a lot of weight in decisions about these cables. “These are private projects and investments financed by private companies, but the United States has greatly strengthened control and protection measures after Trump came to power,” the journalist said.

“There was even a cell in the White House called ‘Team Telecom’. Since then, it has become an official committee and decides whether Ghafam should lay cables in countries other than the United States,” he said. .

“While it is perfectly permissible for a cable to go from the United States to Europe or Japan, two major world routes, today it is almost impossible to imagine a cable starting from the East Coast. From the Americas to Asia through the Mediterranean Sea. Telecom team. any of this type would have refused the project”, concludes Olivier Pinaud.

Interview by Thibault Schaller
Web adaptation: Julien Furrer

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