Internet access in the Overseas Territories: the danger of submarine cables

Almost all digital exchanges and global Internet data go through a single technology: fiber optic, terrestrial or maritime. However, the tightening of geopolitical tensions around the world highlights the risks to our societies of having bet on all our internet exchanges through a single system, with the risk of blocking communications. especially between islands and continents, between overseas territories and France.



This is the worst scenario feared by the French authorities and officials in the various overseas territories: that an enemy force will cut off one or more submarine cables connecting France with the overseas territories.

Submarine cables have become essential for the functioning of society and the world economy, because they carry more than 98% of international communications, that is, the telephone calls we make to international ones and the data we consult when we go to places that are hosted on overseas servers.

Camille Morel, researcher in international relations

For Camille Morel, a researcher in international relations at Jean Moulin Lyon III University and the Center for Strategic Marine Studies (CESM), an attack on submarine cables would have repercussions on our lives because “Almost all our daily activities, as citizens, social networks, but also banks, companies, who put their data online, administrations” go through these media.

Another concern is the espionage or looting of information that passes through these cables. While most of this digital data is of little value – it’s all Internet traffic for individuals – the others, on the other hand, are much more strategic and of interest to the world’s powers, who have no hesitation in deploy military means, to spy, manipulate. or destabilize a country. “Connectivity will be affectedsays Camille Morel. It will stop or stop. On the other hand, I think we would see more of a financial impact and an impact on connectivity in general, on social media connectivity. “but not a vital impact.

The Internet is a real-time global interconnection that today is based on a single network: fiber optics, which is in full swing worldwide, including overseas. More than 420 sea cables using this technology travel the world through the depths of the sea. They connect countries with each other and France with their overseas territories.

When a cable is cut, often for natural or human reasons (for example, an earthquake or a trawler), the territories redirect the data to another cable. However, overseas, only three territories have one: New Caledonia (which launched a second cable installation in March), Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and Wallis and Futuna. The only alternative is to send sensitive data through space via satellite.

We can use both geostationary satellites, that is, very tall satellites, just above a country and not moving. But data transfer times are relatively long, meaning you have no real time, but a small delay. Or we may have a fleet of satellites in low orbit. In this case, the communication times are low, so you really have real-time internet.

Philippe Baptiste, President of the National Center for Space Studies (CNES)

This is what is at stake with the constellations of microsatellites for the network that are currently being deployed by various states. Despite this complex geostrategic context, operators usually only need about ten days to resolve a breakdown or cut in a submarine cable. Once the site of intervention has been located, staples are sent from the bottom to retrieve the parts, weld them on board a cable boat and once again allow the flow of digital communications to return to normal.

See the topic by Jean-Michel Mazerolle, Albane Lussien and François Brauge:

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