To say that Big Tech controls the internet might seem like an exaggeration. Increasingly, in at least one sense, it’s literally true.
The internet can seem intangible, a post-physical environment where things like viral posts, virtual goods and metaverse concerts just sort of happen. But creating that illusion requires a truly gargantuan—and quickly-growing—web of physical connections.
Fiber-optic cable, which carries 95% of the world’s international internet traffic, links up pretty much all of the world’s data centers, those vast server warehouses where the computing happens that transforms all those 1s and 0s into our experience of the internet.
Where those fiber-optic connections link up countries across the oceans, they consist almost entirely of cables running underwater—some 1.3 million kilometers (or more than 800,000 miles) of bundled glass threads that make up the actual, physical international internet. And until recently, the overwhelming majority of the undersea fiber-optic cable being installed was controlled and used by telecommunications companies and governments. Today, that’s no longer the case.
In less than a decade, four tech giants—
Google parent Alphabet, Meta (formerly
—have become by far the dominant users of undersea-cable capacity. Before 2012, the share of…