The newly inaugurated Association of Submarine Cable Operators of Nigeria (ASCON) has appealed to the federal government to consider the protection of submarine cables as national assets in order to ensure that the future of the internet is secured to a large extent.
The operators said investments in submarine cables were expected to grow in the course of 2019 and beyond, hence the need for government’s protection, since it is capital intensive to invest in submarine cable operations, and more capital intensive to repair and replace damaged undersea cables, in spite of the ripple effect if they eventually got damaged.
President of ASCON, Ifeloju Alakija, who is equally the Head, Regulatory Services, MainOne, and the Vice President of ASCON, Maxwell Eze, who is also the Submarine Cable Station Manager at MTN, made the appeal recently in Lagos.
According to them, although incidences of sabotage were few compared to man-made accidents like, dredging, dragging anchor, and natural events such as tsunamis, earthquake, submarine avalanches, scraping against irregular ocean floor terrain and sharks, it becomes imperative to seek protection against willful sabotage, unintentional accidental damages and natural disasters, in order to maintain steady access to the internet without operational downtime.
They described submarine cables as communication cables that are laid on the sea-bed between land-based stations to carry telecommunication signals across stretches of ocean and sea.
“Data is transported through the cables with the aid of light and repeaters spread along the seafloor at distances of around 50 miles, ensuring data moves along at a consistent speed,” they said in a statement.
In Africa, prior to 2009, 16 African countries were connected to one submarine cable system. By 2016, submarine cable capacity reached 33 countries. Five of the cable networks are powering connectivity in the West African region. These five include MainOne, Glo 1, WACS, ACE, and SAT-3 all, of which land on Nigeria’s shores.
These cables facilitate the reach and speed of internet and phone access critical to international trade, official government communications, and daily end user requirements.
Alakija said although submarine cables were tucked away from prying human eyes, the cables still face enormous threats from human activities like fishing, shipping, dredging and sometimes even state sabotage and cyber-attacks.
He listed fishing activities to include harmful practices like bottom trawling, which he described as an industrial fishing method where a large net with heavy weights is dragged across the seafloor, scooping up everything in its path – from the targeted fish to incidentally cutting fibre optic cables in the process or snagging at them in such a way that its causes shunting. In the case of shipping, Alakija said anchorage happens when ships drop their anchors where there are submarine cables and it lands on them causing damage.
He, however. said despite the challenges, more investments were going into submarine cables, adding that in recent years, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have all invested in submarine cables to keep pace with growing demand.