The internet consists of tiny bits of code that move around the world, traveling along wires as thin as a strand of hair strung across the ocean floor. The data zips from New York to Sydney, from Hong Kong to London, in the time it takes you to read this word. But now Google is going its own way, in a first-of-its-kind project connecting the United States to Chile, home to the company’s largest data center in Latin America.
“People think that data is in the cloud, but it’s not,” said Jayne Stowell, who oversees construction of Google’s undersea cable projects. “It’s in the ocean. “Getting it there is an exacting and time-intensive process. A 456-foot ship named Durable will eventually deliver the cable to sea.
While most of us now largely experience the internet through Wi-Fi and phone data plans, those systems eventually link up with physical cables that swiftly carry the information across continents or across oceans.
In the modern era, telecommunications companies laid most of the cable, but over the past decade American tech giants started taking more control. Google has backed at least 14 cables globally. Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft, that own or lease more than half of the undersea bandwidth, have invested in others, connecting data centers in North America, South America, Asia, Europe and Africa, according to TeleGeography, a research firm. Countries view the undersea cables as critical infrastructure and the projects have been flash points in geopolitical disputes.