The hundreds of submarine cables on the ocean floor essentially are the internet.
The hundreds of submarine cables on the ocean floor essentially are the internet. For the consumer, its easy to think of the internet as a mostly wireless infrastructure, because on the back end, we often are connected wirelessly. But in reality, the infrastructure of telecomms is still cable, as it always has been.
Cell towers and Wifi routers make up the last few feet or miles from the backbone to our devices. But unless two devices are connected to the same router or cell tower, transmission occurs via cabling. Towers and modems are points-of-entry to the global grid, which connects towns to cities and cities to other cities across the planet.
See an interactive map of submarine fiber cable here
So how, exactly, does a city in N. America connect to a city in Europe or Asia? The best available cables are fiber optics. These are glass strands that conduct data packets encoded in light signals, emitted by lasers. The bandwidth they offer is unrivaled by other types of transmission. Billions of people have an instant connection along the relatively small number of intercontinental fiber optic cables on the ocean floor
How did it originate?
Laying telecomms cables on the sea floor is a practice that’s been in development since the days of telegraph machines. Technology has improved the process, but the concept is still the same. Commercial ships roll out lengths of cable across the deep, connecting them together one by one to span the thousands of miles between coastlines.
Who owns it?
The infrastructure consists of hundreds of cables, and the installation of each is a massive task that requires extensive engineering and deep pockets. The original submarine fiber optic cables were laid by telecomms carriers like AT&T prior to the 2000’s. Nowadays, with the internet being a staple to modern life, companies from other industries have a dog in the fight. A look at this map of the world’s deep sea fiber shows that many cables are owned by household names like Verizon, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Huawei. Companies often join forces to install cables. This allows them to pool resources, and to divide up the work of navigating regulations with different governments at each end of the line.
Who regulates it?
According to the International Law of the Sea, a vast majority of the ocean is controlled by nobody. Countries have some exclusive rights to zones within a certain range off their coastline, for the purpose of exploitation and security. That means that ships laying fiber optic cables need to get authorization from governments controlling the land at each end of the line, as well as governments controlling any ocean zone they pass through.
In the US, that means getting permission from the FCC. Their portal for application, as well as pending applications, can be viewed here