Google and Meta’s new subsea cables mark a tectonic shift in how the internet works, and who controls it.
For more than a decade, U.S. tech giants have had designs on building Africa’s internet. Alphabet is now at work on Project Taara, another “moonshot,” which aims to repurpose the Loon balloons’ airborne lasers. Meta — previously Facebook — has also floated airborne internet delivery systems, including using a satellite that would beam data to Africa from space (which was abandoned when the rocket carrying it was engulfed in flames on the launchpad) and its Aquila solar-powered drones (which were grounded after disappointing performances, including a crash landing). Elon Musk’s SpaceX seems to have had better luck, having now launched over 1,700 small satellites as part of its Starlink constellation, although it won’t begin providing internet service in Africa to consumers until later in 2023.
But beneath these shiny objects in the sky — laid, in fact, on the ocean floor — are a series of more traditional and likely much more transformative efforts to bridge the connected and the unconnected. After years of anticipation, massive undersea fiber-optic cables, stretching thousands of miles, have begun arriving on African and European shores.
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