Google makes billions from its cloud platform. Now it’s using those billions to buy up the internet itself — or at least the submarine cables that make up the internet backbone.
In February, the company announced its intention to move forward with the development of the Curie cable, a new undersea line stretching from California to Chile. It will be the first private intercontinental cable ever built by a major non-telecom company.
And if you step back and just look at intracontinental cables, Google has fully financed a number of those already; it was one of the first companies to build a fully private submarine line.
Google isn’t alone. Historically, cables have been owned by groups of private companies, mostly telecom providers
but 2016 saw the start of a massive submarine cable boom, and this time, the buyers are content providers. Corporations like Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon all seem to share Google’s aspirations for bottom-of-the-ocean dominance.
I’ve been watching this trend develop, being in the broadband space myself, and the recent movements are certainly concerning. Big tech’s ownership of the internet backbone will have far-reaching, yet familiar, implications. It’s the same old consumer tradeoff; more convenience for less control — and less privacy.
We’re reaching the next stage of internet maturity; one where only large, incumbent players can truly win in media.
Consumers will soon need to decide exactly how much faith they want to place in these companies to build out the internet of tomorrow. We need to decide carefully, too; these are the same companies that are gaining access to a seemingly ever-increasing share of our private lives.
If you want to measure the internet in miles, fiber-optic submarine cables are the place to start. These unassuming cables crisscross the ocean floor worldwide, carrying 95-99 percent of international data over bundles of fiber-optic cable strands the diameter of a garden hose. All told, there are more than 700,000 miles of submarine cables in use today.
While past cable builders leveraged cable ownership to sell bandwidth, content providers are building purposefully private cables.
The internet is commonly described as a cloud. In reality, it’s a series of wet, fragile tubes, and Google is about to own an alarming number of them. The numbers speak for themselves; Google will own 10,433 miles of submarine cables internationally when the Curie cable is completed later this year.
The total shoots up to 63,605 miles when you include cables it owns in consortium with Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon. Including these part-owned cables, the company has enough submarine infrastructure to wrap around the earth’s equator two-and-a-half times (with thousands of cable miles to spare).