On how internet infrastructures follow marine transport

Leopold Lambert’s brilliant blog has a new entry about the submarine internet structure. It is well worth a careful peruse, especially because of its brilliant maps. It also contains loads of fascinating insight:

A particularity of this [submarine cable] network is that it tends to reproduce the existing territorial organization of maritime ports, rather than invent new ones, although we can notice some exceptions however, the Emirate of Fujairah, for instance, appears to be a major connection point between Europe, the Middle East and Asia, despite being a relatively small city/region (152,000 inhabitants). This leads us to the specific region of the Middle East and, in particular the Suez Canal that appears as being as important in its digital communication than it has been and continues to be for fret transportation. The same can be said (although to a lesser degree) about the Straight of Hormuz that remains a determining strategic corridor of water between Iran, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

On January 27, 2011, Hosni Mubarak’s government ordered the five Egyptian Internet providers to shut down the totality of the network on the Egyptian territory, following three days of massive protests around the country that will eventually force him to step down two weeks later. This shutdown did not seem to affect the countries for which Suez is a relay — it seems that it did not even affect the Egyptian stock exchange’s network, even though the latter closed on the 27th, only to reopen two months later. However, these countries have been strongly affected twice in2008 and in 2011, when damages to the submarine cables (FLAG FEA, GO-1, SEA-ME-WE 3, and SEA-ME-WE 4) successively near Alexandria and in the Suez Canal itself significantly decreased the internet efficiency of about 100 million people in Middle Eastern and Asian countries. In a text entitled “Internet est maritime : les enjeux des câbles sous-marins,” (Internet Is Maritime: The Submarine Cables at Stake, in Revue internationale et stratégique 3/2014), Armand Colin describes how some countries rely on the fragility of their own network to ensure the ability to control it. Syria, for example, only has one point of entry, in Tartus, for the four submarine Internet cables that connect it to the world. In November 2012 and May 2013, the country experienced several days of shutdown, which was suspected to be of the Assad government’s doing in its handling of the civil war.