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 past the North Pole to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans would provide all manner of opportunities for shipping and trade. But it could not begin to happen until 1903. That is when sailors with Roald Amundsen's expedition were able to chart a path. It passed through the shifting Arctic ice.
Now, as Aaron Frank reports for Motherboard, melting Arctic ice has opened up opportunities. We could see a kind of connection between Europe and Asia that Amundsen never could have dreamed of. It will be faster Internet.
The Internet might seem like an ethereal, 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 for Scientific American.
Now, communications companies are jumping on the chance to lay new cables through the Arctic. Right now, a ship commissioned by Quintillion Networks, a company based out of Anchorage, Alaska, 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.
The rapidly melting ice is worrying to climate scientists for all kinds of reasons. These include less habitat for ice-dwelling critters like polar bears, rising sea levels and 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, Baird reports. While 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 slow and expensive satellite connections.
"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 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 like 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 to better the lives of some people who so far have been left behind by an increasingly connected world.