Melting Arctic ice might mean faster internet for some
For centuries, a clear route through the Arctic's Northwest Passage was the stuff of dreams. A direct route was needed, past the North Pole to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The new route would provide all manner of opportunities. Mostly, it would improve shipping and trade. But it could not begin to happen until 1903. That's when sailors with Roald Amundsen's expedition were able to chart a path. The route passed through the shifting Arctic ice.
Now, melting Arctic ice has opened up opportunities. This is according to Aaron Frank. He reports for Motherboard. Soon, we could see a new connection between Europe and Asia. Amundsen never could have dreamed of it. What will that connection be? Faster Internet.
The Internet might seem like a ghostly, invisible network. It connects every laptop and smartphone on the planet. In reality, it is propped up by a very real, very large network. It is made up of cables. They crisscross the ocean floor. For years, communications networks have relied on tens of thousands of fiber optic cables. They establish connections between countries. The shortest and most direct connections provided the fastest links to the Internet. As the Internet grew, so did this undersea network. Crossing the Arctic Circle is the most direct path to lay cables to connect European and Asian networks. But until recently, Arctic ice has prevented installation.
"It is more viable for (companies) to propose these new and innovative routes than ever before," noted Nicole Starosielski. She is a media, culture and communications researcher. She teaches at New York University. She was interviewed by Jeremy Hsu. He reports for Scientific American.
Now, communications companies are jumping on the chance to lay new cables. They will go through the Arctic. A ship has been commissioned by Quintillion Networks. It is a company based out of Anchorage, Alaska. Quintillion is beginning to install undersea fiber optic cables. The hope is to lay the foundations for a direct connection between Tokyo and London. This is according to Kevin Baird. He is a reporter for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. It's a newspaper in Alaska.
The rapidly melting ice worries climate scientists for all kinds of reasons. These include less habitat for ice-dwelling critters like polar bears and rising sea levels. In addition, there can be disruption to the ocean's currents. But these plans to lay new networks in previously inaccessible regions of the Arctic Circle mean that people living in remote areas will finally be able to connect to the Internet. This is according to Baird's reporting. Much of the developed world has long had easy access to high-speed broadband Internet. Many people in small Arctic communities in Alaska and Canada still have to do with satellite connections. These are slow and expensive.
"There are enormous possibilities for local businesses and individuals who want to stay in their village and make a living," said Tara Sweeney to Baird. Sweeney is a spokesperson for the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation. It is a native Alaska company. It represents the interests of Inupiat communities. They reside in the Arctic Slope region.
When the first stages of Quintillion's plan are finished, people in remote Alaskan communities will have access to services. Among them will be online classes and medical data. They also will be able to do things that most people take for granted. Those include streaming movies and television shows through services like Netflix, Baird reports.
While the environmental impact of the melting Arctic ice is significant, the changing face of the region could offer new opportunities. They will improve the lives of some people. So far, these folks have been left behind by an increasingly connected world.