Shifts and Tensions in the Political Ecology of Subsea Networks

From Our Networks 2047

Presented by Sustainable Subsea Networks team

This talk discusses the historical importance of the political ecology of data infrastructures in the 2020s and 2030s, describing how a confluence of local struggles over energy justice and global corporate infrastructural expansions combined to radically reconfigure the contemporary geographies of the subsea telecommunication cable network. It outlines:

  • How mid 2020s corporate net zero commitments and investment-hungry Northern European states combined to shift global network infrastructure investments towards a proliferation of colocation sites in Northern geographies with an abundance of cheap renewable power.
  • How this emphasis on low-carbon networks challenged the low-latency and high-redundancy paradigms of edge and fog computing strategies, leading to data centres and other compute resources being increasingly clustered in cleaner energy grids, connecting outwards to the rest of the world through an increasing abundance of subsea cables.
  • How by the mid 2020s it became increasingly clear that this emphasis on low-carbon networks was working to reinforce geographic disparities in the network, disadvantaging Global South locations with greater cooling requirements and enduring fossil energy sources within national grids.
  • How in the 2030s Global South actors challenged this divide, notably in the Singapore Tropical Data Centre Group's development of thermally durable DNA computing and in Pirate Radio Solomon's seizure and salvage of its cable landing station, all of which were ultimately essential in the establishment of the first transoceanic deployment of the Tropical DD Web.
  • How these advances currently feature as an understated but important part of current tech- and climate refugee transfer talks between the Nordic Confederacy and the Federation of Pacific Small Island States.

We end with speculations on the geopolitics of future of oceanic cable systems, especially those contemplated in the planned 2052 Antarctic system currently in negotiations between the Central Patagonian Directory and New Greenland.