Photo: Jens Kohler, Getty Images
Yesterday morning, Microsoft, along with fellow tech-titan Facebook and Spanish-based telecom company Telxius, announced the completion of a 4,000 mile long undersea cable spanning the Atlantic Ocean. The cable–which looks like a thick garden hose– runs from Virginia Beach, Virginia to Bilbao, Spain, and is comprised of eight fiber optic cables wrapped in watertight copper and plastic, submerged to an average depth of 11,000 feet. Dubbed Marea (Spanish for “tide”), the cable is expected to be fully functional by early 2018, when it will transport approximately 160 terabits of data per second, roughly the equivalent of 71 million HD videos being streamed at once.
Microsoft isn’t the only tech company to try its hand at infrastructure building as Google announced last year, once again in partnership with Facebook, that they would be building a trans-Pacific cable. At only 120 terabits per second, however, Google is looking like the laggard. Further, they’ve had production setbacks as they’ve been forced to wrap their cables in a kevlar-like material to prevent shark bites.
The impetus for the project, as per Microsoft, is for a “greater resiliency” of networks in the wake of disasters like Sandy and Harvey, where internet connection was down for days, sometimes weeks, at a time. Furthermore, with Congress unable to agree on infrastructure spending, private companies are increasingly being forced to forge their own paths of transportation, whether that be of people (see: Hyperloop) or data.
Amidst all this growth and optimism, however, the dangers of tech companies encroaching in the infrastructure sphere is made plain by the words of Microsoft’s own spokeswoman:
The Marea cable’s new “open” design allows it to evolve with technology, ensuring the highest performance for users now and well into the future, even as the global population of internet users grows. And make no mistake, the demand is growing. Just think of the many high-bandwidth applications and content you use today such as Skype and Facebook Live, and the volume of streaming videos, movies and music consumed daily.
Notice the only two programs they mention by name are Microsoft’s Skype and Facebook’s Facebook Live; their priorities in building are far from neutral. If I get hit by a tropical storm and all I have access to is Skype and Facebook Live, imma be all like….