Google puffed out his chest. Celebration and applause surrounded the arrival of Grace Hopper in Bilbao last summer. Not that Grace Hopper who helped create COBOL, no, but the cable that honored her. A gigantic 6,000 km submarine cable that connects New York with Bilbao, in Spain, and Bude, in the United Kingdom.
That was the latest achievement of an industry that allows us to communicate, work, play and enjoy content like never before. That is prodigious, but these advances have a lesser-known side: the control and dominance that Google and other technology giants have of these submarine cables is remarkable and, above all, worrying.
wires everywhere. We not only have them on the table. Submarine cables are something like the backbone of the Internet: an interconnection network that allows data to reach from one continent to another, crossing seas and oceans without problems and at breakneck speeds.
Today the underwater bottom is covered by 1.3 million kilometers of fiber optic cables, but in a decade those who control them in the majority are the big technology companies. Beware: thanks to these investments —installing and maintaining them is no small feat— the transmission capacity has grown amazingly: in 2020 alone, that capacity has grown by 41% compared to the previous year.
The other conquest of the ocean. Two out of every three bits that pass through these submarine cables are controlled by Microsoft, Alphabet (Google), Meta (formerly Facebook) and Amazon, which are absolutely dominant users of this infrastructure. In 2012 these companies used less than 10% of the capacity of these cables. Today they use about 66%.
The data comes from the study (PDF) of TeleGeography, a consultancy in this segment, and in fact go further and say that these four companies will soon go further. In the next three years they will be the main financiers and owners of the submarine internet cables that connect the developed countries and the most voracious in terms of bandwidth consumption. It is expected that in 2024 they will have a participation of more than 30 long distance cables. In 2010 they only had a stake in one of those cables
A very profitable investment. as they indicate en The Wall Street JournalUntil a few years ago, these cables were installed thanks to governments and national telecommunications companies, but the big technology companies got tired of having to depend on these companies to cover increasingly large transmission needs. What did you do? Spending a lot of money (90,000 million dollars only in 2020 between the four) and then realizing that the idea was very profitable for them and complicated things spectacularly for the traditional dominators of this market.
In fact, the big technology companies clearly collaborate in these investments. The Marea cable, which also connects Virginia Beach (USA) with Vizcaya, is 6,600 km long and was a joint project between Microsoft, Facebook (now Meta) and Telefónica (through its subsidiary Telxius). These investments have made it possible today to enjoy fantastic and necessary connections in a hyperconnected world, but it is impossible not to raise suspicions: the same companies that control these cables and use them piecemeal are often criticized and sued for their scandals antitrust and privacy.
Image | submarine cables