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Google Plans To Lay A New Trans-Atlantic Cable To Improve Internet Infrastructure

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In 2006, the late Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska described the Internet like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TED STEVENS: The Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

That series of tubes became a late-night punchline. But Stevens wasn't totally wrong.

VIJAY VUSIRIKALA: A lot of people do not realize that all the cool apps that people see - underpinning all those applications is this physical infrastructure. And this physical infrastructure is a series of submarine cables that connect these continents together.

CHANG: That is Google's Vijay Vusirikala. And we should note Google is an NPR sponsor. Well, Google already owns three undersea cables, snaking along the coasts of Africa and South America and across the Atlantic.

SHAPIRO: But Internet traffic keeps going up. So now Google is adding another trans-Atlantic line, which forks when it gets to Europe. The company says that might make Internet traffic more resilient.

VUSIRIKALA: For example, if there's an outage in Spain and it takes us awhile to repair that outage, we can divert the traffic to U.K. and then loop it back to its eventual destination.

SHAPIRO: Google expects the cable to be ready by 2022.

CHANG: Communications companies began stringing cables between the continents long before the Internet, way back in the late 1850s, when the cutting-edge communication tool was the telegraph. The cables back then were electric wires. Now they work differently.

NICOLE STAROSIELSKI: It's fiber optics. It's shooting a beam of light down a glass strand.

SHAPIRO: That's Nicole Starosielski of New York University. She wrote a book called "The Undersea Network," and she says the bottom of the ocean is actually the perfect place to put these vital information links.

STAROSIELSKI: People think that because they're at the very bottom of the sea floor that that is a dangerous space for them. It's actually really, really safe because people aren't down there.

CHANG: The place where dangers do arise, she says, is near the coastline, where anchors and fishing boats are a big threat.

SHAPIRO: But there's another threat she says people should just forget about.

STAROSIELSKI: There's a rumor always going around about the sharks eating the undersea cables, and that's just not true.

SHAPIRO: One final note - Google has named its new cable Grace Hopper after an early computer scientist. In 1947, Hopper led a team that identified the first actual bug in a computer. It was a short circuit caused by a moth. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.