The future of internet governance: Submarine cables and global interconnectivity

19 Dec 2017 09:00h - 10:30h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 12th Internet Governance Forum]

This workshop, moderated by Ms Florence Poznanski, Head of Brazilian Desk at Internet Without Borders, tackled undersea cable management, protection of physical infrastructure, transparency and surveillance in backbone infrastructure, and the high dependency of some countries on cable monopoly due to lack of alternatives.

Ms Roxana Radu, Internet Governance Associate at DiploFoundation, reminded the audience that the Internet is not decentralised. This is because 97% of all traffic travels through the submarine cable infrastructure. Despite this fact, this infrastructure is insufficiently protected: there are 300 incidents a year involving cables. Out of these, 45% of cable faults have to do with fishing and 15% are caused by anchoring practices. Analysis of the map of undersea cables shows strategic choke points like in Alexandria (Egypt) where many cables meet. These locations represent possible vulnerabilities and risks for the whole Internet. Radu pointed out that the construction costs of undersea cables are very high and often financed by private investors. The private sector has limited means to protect its own infrastructure. In conclusion, Radu provided an overview of essential international law and conventions regulating the submarine cable system and gave the example of Australia and New Zealand as countries that have created a cable protected zone.

Mr Peter Micek, Global Policy and Legal Counsel at Access Now, talked about some of the vulnerabilities that affect freedom of expression, access, and privacy. Micek reiterated the fact that backbone cables are critical resource infrastructure. He also pointed to insufficient transparency in management that could lead citizens to distrust Internet service providers and governments. Internet disruptions like those in Somalia and other countries often bring doubts about whether these malfunctions are really accidental. Another significant aspect influencing cable infrastructure is state surveillance. At the end, Micek talked about some of the responses to these issues in civil society and in the human rights world.

Ms Veridiana Alimonti, Intervozes, underscored the problem of choke points and the dependency of some countries on existing exclusive cable links. For example, there is only one direct cable between Latin America and Europe. Additionally, almost all communication going from Latin America to Asia travels through the United States. Alimonti then focused on digital rights and regional infrastructures, giving examples from Brazil. She mentioned an ecosystem between providers, citizens, and governments in Latin America and the development of Internet exchange points in Brazil.

The last speaker, Mr Félix Blanc from Internet without Borders, reported on the details of the ELLA LINK, a submarine cable connecting Brazil and Portugal, which has an innovative governance model. The ELLA LINK is a joint venture of commercial telecommunications companies and non-commercial players. It has a dual governance model, granting bandwidth to scientific, academic, and non-profit organisations.

The discussion with the audience covered issues of Internet exchange points, the technological approach of human rights by design, and transparency. Interestingly, some people called for public investment into infrastructure that should ensure more transparency in management and pricing.

By Radek Bejdak