[UPDATED February 2017: with new sources and updated maps]
Last week I posted links to some beautiful maps of the Internet backbone, showing how data is routed across the Internet. Today’s post will concentrate on fibre optic cables in Africa. It is easy to make assumptions about an Internet digital divide in Africa. However, Africa is a huge and diverse continent and technology often changes quickly. One of the best sources for up to update information about the Internet backbone in Africa is Many Possibilities. Their African cable map is regularly updated:
ITGS students need to understand the structure of the Internet for several important reasons. The key technical terms are part of strand 3. Several ITGS social and ethical issues in strand 1, including reliability and privacy issues, also stem from this structure (chapter 4 of the textbook covers these in more detail).
The cable maps above important raise questions about the Digital Divide and Equality of Access. Often Africa as a whole is considered “undeveloped”, yet these maps reveal large disparities across the continent. There has been rapid rollout of fibre optic technology in some areas, while others remain relatively untouched. Technology is also rapidly changing, as this animated map shows (you can also view the SlideShare version):
Within individual countries – and even cities – access to the Internet and other technology can vary greatly. For example, thousands of Nairobi’s population live in the infamous Kibera slum, where services such as running water and electricity are severely limited. This is an important reminder that ITGS covers not only global issues, but also those at the national and local levels.
As these maps are regularly updated, it will be interesting to see how they change over the next few years. The cable map below, from the NSRC, shows undersea and land-based cables in Africa. It is interesting that there are almost as many red ‘under construction’ cables as there are live ones. This suggests a large boom in connectivity may be coming soon.
Of course, the availability of Internet backbone cables is only one factor in the determining a digital divide. Expensive equipment or network access, government interference with access, or limited bandwidth for population size can all play a role. Africa Bandwidth Maps has lots of information to help research this further.
Further cable map resources
More resources and maps detailing the growth, structure, and demographics of the Internet can be found on the networks page of the ITGS textbook web site. Mapping the Internet has links to global Internet backbone maps and regional cable maps.