Jonathan Wright (Global) - Is the Internet Diverse Enough?

What happens when you try to log onto the Internet and nothing gives? The enforced Internet black outs by the Egyptian and Syrian governments earlier this year caused concern for International businesses - but it's not just governments that have this power to disconnect us. We're currently in a position where the Internet is severely compromised in a number of locations around the globe. The world's ocean floors are packed with sub-sea cables, which if broken, can cause huge problems for whole continents. In 2008, hundreds of millions of people in India were left without the Internet for weeks after a ship, dragging its anchor, cut the major sub-sea cables connecting the country to the global Internet.

So how can we improve Internet diversity to mitigate the risk of an Internet blackout? Global terrestrial cable projects have gone some way to alleviating these risks. For example, trans-Russian routes create Internet diversity by providing alternative routes from Europe into China and Japan, improving latency and limiting the impact if a sub-sea cable breaks. Another region that is seeing a lot of terrestrial development is the Middle East, which is fast growing as a major business hub for international businesses. Telecoms organisations are matching this growth with the development of improved terrestrial connections in the region to Europe and the rest of the world.

Yet greater Internet diversity is needed not only to counter physical cable breakages, it is also a means for addressing the political control over Internet access - an issue that has certainly hit the headlines recently. The fact that the Internet facilitates communication makes it a valuable tool; it should come as no surprise that it is increasingly being used as a political pawn during times of unrest. Many telecom's within those regions remain state controlled or the state has license obligations that are more susceptible to early intervention, thus state control of national Internet both at the macro level and at the specific content level remains strong in many places and getting around this remains difficult. Moving deeper into specific geographies increases the localisation of the Internet, delivering local caching, creating resilience and reducing reliance on large amounts of international capacity. In a world where there are more connections than ever before, terrestrial cables may address the physical risks of sub-sea breakages yet they are more susceptible to political risks. Governments have the power to destroy terrestrial cables and refuse for them to be repaired, and in these cases a lot can be said for the protection provided to sub-sea cables by virtue of large elements of them being outside any nation states territorial waters.

Network diversity is essential in order to maintain a resilient global Internet connection. Countries in regions with little network diversity must look to collaborate and invest more heavily in the coming years. By working together, regions can reduce the impact on global connectivity during times of crisis. With very different but equally real risks being posed to terrestrial and sub-sea cables, it is essential that operators take a close look at their region and understand how their ability and freedom to run their network provides both a threat and an opportunity to global connectivity. If the geographic or political locations of sub-sea and terrestrial cables have the potential to cause problems, then only by an increased proliferation of both will internet diversity be more comprehensively addressed.

By Jonathan Wright, commercial director, Interoute


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