Brazil-Portugal submarine cable no panacea

It could make sense for diversity of routing, experts say. As a method to avoid the broad-scale tapping of submarine cables by intelligence services though, a rather silly idea. A lot has been written about the planned new submarine cable between Brazil and Portugal. If based on policy alone, there is still a chance the ambitious plans might not come to fruition, Alan Mauldin, Research Director at Telegeography said to Internet Policy Review.

The submarine cable between Fortaleza and Lisbon was a pre-Snowden project. In 2012 Brazilian incumbent Telebras and the Spanish company IslaLink signed an Memorandum of Understanding to connect the two continents. Today political attention has gone up considerably, while the project remains unchanged.

Telebras now pumped by anti-NSA debates and IslaLink, the submarine cable provider for the Baleares and the Canary Isles for which the EQT Infrastructure Fund just acquired a majority share still are looking for a third partner to take on a 20 percent share in the venture. Telebras has been reported to own 45 percent, IslaLink who brings in the submarine cable expertise owns 35 percent. Neither IslaLink, nor Brazil's Ministry of Communication did come back with answers about how to fix the schedule, which is set to start in the first quarter of 2016.

Pros and Cons from AN expert's view

There a is a chance that the project might prove to be too expensive for the partners, Mauldin evaluated. Although no new submarine cable capacity was built in Brazil since 2002 - "that really sounds quite shocking“, Maudin acknowledged, there now is a run on three new submarine fibre lines to Brazil: the amx-1, which will be operational in the next few months, Monet, and seabras-1. All of these link Brazil up with the United States - "this is just cheaper“, Mauldin explained. There was also a planned Angola-Brazil cable in 2016 and prices for traffic in Brazil have started to go down in the expectation of the new arrivals. This is a new development given the earlier stability of prices in the South American country.

Mauldin thinks there might be one good argument and even a sound business proposal for the Brazil-EU link: diversity of routing. If hurricanes are to drive down capacity over the Florida route, having a second major route certainly makes sense. "If the point is that you want to avoid the US, avoid the NSA, good luck with that,“ Mauldin said. Would a forced routing to Europe – and non-US-equipment in the build-out – make ubiquitous surveillance go away? The telecom expert doubts it. For one, the NSA has partners in Europe beside the United Kingdom. France, Germany and others are "all involved" in the surveillance, Mauldin guesses.

What is more, security experts have pointed to the advanced submarine surveillance capabilities of the US Navy – meet the "Jimmy Carter“ for example, a submarine equipped with all what is necessary to tap into the cables under water. Furthermore, data being monitored by intelligence services comes much handier at the nodes and data centres of network and platform providers. The costly investment in the 3,500 miles (approximately 5630 km) long cable might better be spent on making users more secure.

Not that the Brazil-Europe cable is unique in its "we want our own“-message. Mauldin also sees cable endeavours by China, who wants its submarine link to the US not to route through Japan. Certainly with the US-China link, nobody has illusions on who might be interested in tapping it – it is a joint venture.

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