Monday 7 March 2011


An interesting map of the submarine data cables that keep the global networks humming can be found here.

One can zoom in and out of the map just like any other Google map.
When any of the lines indicating the submarine cables are clicked, data pertaining to that cable are displayed. This includes details like: date since when it has been in service (RFS - Ready For Service), the total cable length, the landing points.
An interesting data that it displays is the owners list. Many of the submarine cables seem to be owned by multiple corporations from multiple nationalities. This is understandable - considering the nature of investment required and the distribution of the utility derived.
This is a reality of the way our transnational, global resources are owned and accessed in today's world.
However, if seen in the context of how other scare resource with multiple ownership is increasingly been seen as a trigger for future conflict, the ownership diversity of submarine cables can be alarming.
Take for instance this snippet of information I came across -  40% of human population today gets its fresh water from sources that are 'controlled' by two or more countries (UN Millennium Project). This is being seen as a probable driver of future conflict considering that water is a scarce resource.
Brahma Chellaney's new bookWater: Asia's New Battlegroundis a pioneering study on the topic of water scarcity and the potential of shared water resources to become a trigger for conflict.
Asia is home to many of the world's great rivers and lakes, but its huge population and exploding economic and agricultural demand for water make it the most water-scarce continent on a per capita basis. Many of Asia's water sources cross national boundaries, and as less and less water is available, international tensions will rise. The potential for conflict is further underscored by China's unrivaled global status as the source of transboundary river flows to the largest number of countries, ranging from India and Vietnam to Russia and Kazakhstan; yet a fast-rising China has declined to enter into water-sharing or cooperative treaties with these states, even as it taps the resources of international rivers.
While bandwidth infrastructure cannot be compared on a one-is-to-one basis with a natural resource like water, it will be interesting to study the implications of the multiple ownership of 'bandwidth' infrastructure in the future, considering that 'all' of our information nowadays flows through these cables?
The short answer is - in this case it could be a good thing that there are multiple owners, as it limits the risk of misappropriation by any one group or nation. However, I will be researching more on this topic in the upcoming days and will try to develop more robust scenarios to explore the implications of multiple ownership of bandwidth infrastructure.  
As a corollary to this discussion, it is worthwhile checking out Parag Khanna's TED talk (here) on how infrastructure (oil pipelines, etc) are redefining the map of the World, beyond the boundaries of nation states.
Image Credit: Screenshots from TeleGeography's SubmarineCableMap, used with thanks