Noam Dvir and Daniel Rauchwerger

Last February (2014), Brazil and the European Union agreed to lay an under- sea communications cable from Lisbon to Fortaleza to reduce Brazil’s reliance on the United States after Washington confirmed it was spying on Brazilia and several other allies in Europe.

At a summit in Brussels, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said the $185 million cable project was central to “guarantee the neutrality” of the Internet, signaling her desire to shield Brazil’s Internet traffic from U.S. surveillance.

Over 95 per cent of all international communications are routed via submarine fiber-optic cables. Data and voice transfer via these cables is not only cheaper in comparison to satellite communications, but also remarkably faster. More than a million kilometers of cables span the oceans today, connecting continents, islands and countries and providing the infrastructural foundations for the development of the global economy. The oceans are, quite literally, oceans of information.

The first components of this international infrastructure - cop- per-based telegraph cables - were laid across the Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel in the 1850s, first by private companies and later with the increasing encouragement and the engagement of governments. Throughout the 20th century the submarine cable project generated an interest in mapping particular sections of the ocean floor and contributed to the development of fiber optic technology. Cables became the most prominent element of information warfare, in particular during the two World Wars when governments successfully intercepted communication from foreign cables and tapped top-secret military commands. In relation to this, cables highlighted the importance of re- mote islands in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans, as sites of landing stations. Secluded islands like Fanning were acquired by the British Empire to insure a continuous global connection over friendly soil.

More recently cables became a lucrative investment for tech-giants like Google, that invested an estimated 50 million US$ in a new cable in the South Pacific ocean. Google also purchased one of the largest office buildings in New York City by virtue of its adjacency to dark fiber (installed but not active) submarine cables.
This research looks at submarine cables not only as a set of physical infrastructures but also at the immediate effect they have on geopolitical affairs, coastal real estate, information warfare and economical development.

To learn more about this research, go to
Video created by Noam Dvir and Daniel Rauchwerger as part of The Oceanic Turn Advanced Seminar, Harvard Graduate School of Design, Spring 2014.

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