Connecting Europe to Latin America: a revolution in Internet governance?

Connecting Europe to Latin America: a revolution in Internet governance?

Brazil is about to welcome a new submarine cable linking Latin America to Europe: ELLALINK. In addition to strengthening digital inclusion on the continent and reducing access costs, ELLALINK may offer an innovative model of governance that will protect Internet global infrastructures as common goods, thanks to the allocation of indefeasible access rights to non-commercial

Brazil is about to welcome a new submarine cable linking Latin America to Europe: ELLALINK. In addition to strengthening digital inclusion on the continent and reducing access costs, ELLALINK may offer an innovative model of governance that will protect Internet global infrastructures as common goods, thanks to the allocation of indefeasible access rights to non-commercial backbone providers. Before the activation of ELLALINK (probably in 2019), it is time for Brazilian and world civil society to take this unique opportunity to promote an alternative model of Internet governance and resist the growing pressure coming from the commercial sector in Brazil.

In 2014, then president Dilma Rousseff launched a vast programme to restore the digital sovereignty of Brazil in reaction to the Snowden revelations. This demonstrated how dependent Latin America is on worldwide Internet infrastructures, largely owned by American companies. Almost 99% of transcontinental data flows transit through submarine cables, whose consortia are in the hands of a few companies. These now include Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon (GAFA), who have been very active in a recent boom for these infrastructures. With the development of optical fibre and the commercialisation of the Internet, the USA had managed to play a central role in global telecommunication networks – replacing old colonial powers like Great Britain, who inherited a vast complex of telegraphic cables built during the nineteenth century to control the most distant colonies. Thus, the leading position of US companies was already visible in the 1990s in Brazil, even if this country was one of the first to embrace telecommunication revolutions, notably through the deployment of telegraphic networks.

The Rousseff programme was followed by a policy of digital sovereignty, a constant goal of Brazilian governments. In fact, the development of the Internet in Brazil is historically linked to a non-commercial initiative, the Rede Nacional de Pesquisa (RNP), created in 1989 to implement an academic network throughout the country. The network was already widespread when the first commercial operators arrived in the mid-1990s. After a brief attempt to enter the commercial market, the RNP has continued to stretch its activities across the whole territory (currently 1300 points of presence, including Amazonia). Next to the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI) created in 1995, the RNP is one of the pillars that support the Brazilian multistakeholder model of Internet governance, which aims at guaranteeing net neutrality by limiting the interference of commercial interests in traffic management. The objective of the RNP has evolved over the past 25 years. The cooperation of research centres and academic institutions from Latin America and Europe requires an outstanding network of interconnection, even more reliable and affordable since the recent launch of the Cerri Paranal observatory (Chile), where 70% of the world’s astronomical data will soon be produced. In the late 1990s, this increasing interdependence led the RNP and its European partners to initiate a common strategy to obtain better tariff agreements with commercial operators, but also to challenge the US monopoly on international bandwidth – a monopoly that explains why the cost of accessing the global network transiting through the USA is still ten to twenty times higher for Latin America than for Europe.

Consequently, during the Toledo Summit in 2002, several countries in Latin America and Europe launched an ambitious programme of scientific and technological cooperation aimed at strengthening connectivity between the two continents. Funded by the European Commission (ALICE 12), this programme conceived a common infrastructure project – the European Link to Latin America (ELLA) – that has since demonstrated the feasibility of a submarine cable linking Portugal to Brazil. ELLA’s objective is to guarantee the indefeasible right of scientific organisations and non-commercial actors to use the infrastructure, and its bandwidth capacity of 72 terabits/second.

Although this infrastructure project is not unique – three other transatlantic cables are planned to link Brazil to Africa – it is representative of the great challenges facing Internet governance. First, this submarine infrastructure might be a good opportunity to lower the prices of access to international bandwidth from Brazil, where they are still controlled by a few backbone providers who have maintained them artificially high for the past few decades – despite the privatisation of Embratel in 1998, despite the good results obtained by the National Broadband Plan developed by Telebras, and despite additional interconnection points (PTTMetro). This new infrastructure could contribute to lower Internet prices on the whole continent, thanks to an additional capacity of 72 terabits/second. Second, this submarine cable will open a new path for global traffic that will go from the European Union to Brazil, whose data protection policies are among the safest of the world. Last, this infrastructure will offer an innovative way of governance that could become a reference for the whole Internet: commercial telecom operators (Telebras and Ellalink) will share the bandwidth with non-commercial operators (GÉANT and Red-Clara) who will benefit from an indefeasible right of use during the whole exploitation of the cable. They will have a right to use the bandwidth not only for scientific and academic collaboration, but also for all non-commercial activities requiring the Internet – on the condition that these non-commercial actors make no profit on their allocated bandwidth.

This governance model encapsulates a genuine revolution in the prevailing way of governing submarine cables that have been almost exclusively used for commercial purposes – a tendency visible in the multiplication of cables designed to increase the speed of high-frequency trading. From this perspective, allocating an indefeasible right to non-commercial actors is a promising way of promoting common goods at the level of global telco infrastructures. To guarantee universal access to a common infrastructure as a human right reminds us of previous attempts to promote open access to common infrastructures such as European rivers, to which free access was granted  at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.  

These days, Internet highways encounter challenges such as inequality of access to international bandwidth, mass surveillance of international gateways, and traffic interference endangering net neutrality. These issues are difficult to tackle because of the persistent opacity in the decision-making process prevailing among a consortium of Internet backbone providers. A principle of network duality separating commercial and non-commercial uses could guarantee that some basic principles of Internet governance, such as network neutrality, are enforced more consistently – especially after the last and very controversial FCC decision.

To conclude, this alternative model is promising for the future of an open Internet preserving non-commercial Internet activities from the negative consequences of some commercial activities. Opening a non-commercial cable access to non-for-profit organisations may open the door for future collaborations with a whole Internet ecosystem that aims at connecting the unconnected through platforms such as community networks and mesh networks. Last, while calling for the preservation of an open network to foster scientific cooperation and empower interstellar observation, this project brings us back to the roots of the Internet, when the founding fathers decided to make a clear distinction between non-commercial domain names (.org) and commercial ones (.com).

This promising scenario won’t be an easy ride. Brazilian and world civil society need to take up these challenges to make this scenario happen. In Brazil, the growing control of the corporate sector over public infrastructures threatens the legitimacy of the multistakeholder model promoted by the CGI for more than 20 years.  Brazilian civil society is on alert since the recent launch of a public consultation  by the Minister of Telecommunications. A draft law is currently being discussed to end concession contracts with public entities operating in the telecommunications sector. In the same vein, the geostationary satellite for defense and communication (launched last summer) benefited from billions in public investment. The allocation of the spectrum for providing access to remote inland areas will be finally sold to the private sector without any guarantee of universal access.

At this stage of the project, the governance model of ELLALINK must still be detailed and discussed with all relevant sectors. How will this specific part of the spectrum be allocated to non-commercial activities? What kind of steering agency will guarantee universal access to additional capacities and ensure network neutrality? Will the academic sector be allowed to autonomously distribute its allocated capacity to non-profit actors, such as community and/or mesh networks? Opening a vast public discussion on these issues is a prerequisite for making sure that such an alternative model of governance will have a chance to flourish in Latin America, Europe…and beyond.

Félix Blanc, PhD in Political Science, is Director of Public Policy at Internet Sans Frontières and currently a research fellow at the CTS/FGV (Centro Tecnologia e Sociedade/ Fundação Getúlio Vargas, Rio de Janeiro).

Florence Poznanski,  a political scientist and activist, is Head of the Brazil Desk at Internet Sans Frontières.

Please follow and like us:


  • Public Diplomacy: Toward a More “Diplomatic” World 17th Feb 2019, February 13, 2019; original article contains a video and photographs image from Alan K. Henrikson, the Lee E. Dirks Professor of Diplomatic History Emeritus and founding Director of Diplomatic Studies at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, was on hand at the American Center in Moscow at the U.S. Embassy, to […]
  • China tells world to ignore Mike Pence ‘lectures’ 17th Feb 2019
    Joel Gehrke, Washington Examiner, February 16, 2019 Yang Jiechi image from Wikipedia MUNICH — European leaders should disregard "lectures" from Vice President Mike Pence and other U.S. officials about Chinese encroachment into Europe, a top diplomat from the communist nation said Saturday. Pence — amplifying warnings by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — told the […]
  • Heather Nauert Withdraws From Consideration For U.N. Ambassador 17th Feb 2019
    Emma Bowman, NPR, February 16; on Nauert, see below Image from entry, with caption: Department of State Spokesperson Heather Nauert withdrew herself from consideration for the nomination of U.S. ambassador to the U.N. on Saturday.State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert withdrew herself from consideration on Saturday for the nomination of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations."I […]
  • Blast from the Past: The Anti-Propaganda Tradition in the United States (2008) 15th Feb 2019
    Public Diplomacy Alumni Association Formerly USIA Alumni AssociationHome | Conduct of Public Diplomacy | Debate over Public Diplomacy | Public Diplomacy Newswire| Join/about; see also (1) (2)[JB note: Full text cannot be adequately formated on this blog] The post Blast from the Past: The Anti-Propaganda Tradition in the United States (2008) appeared first on […]
  • Public Diplomacy Small Grants Program: Supporting Projects in Malawi 15th Feb 2019 image (not from entry) from, with caption: U.S. Embassy Lilongwe Deadline OngoingThe Public Affairs Section (PAS) at the U.S. Embassy in Lilongwe, Malawi of the U.S. Department of State is pleased to announce that funding is available through its Public Diplomacy [JB emphasis] Small Grants Program.PAS awards a limited number of grants to individuals, […]

RSS Diplo Portal Belgrade

  • Представление программы бесплатного обучения в России 15th Feb 2019
    В Русском доме 13 февраля прошла презентация программы получения бесплатного высшего образования в вузах Российской Федерации. Потенциальные кандидаты смогли получить подробную информацию о условиях ежегодного конкурса на получение стипендий для бесплатного образования в России в рамках выделенных для граждан Сербии квот, который РЦНК проводит в январе-марте, а также информацию о том, как необходимо подавать документы, […]
  • Представљање програма бесплатног студирања у Русији 15th Feb 2019
    У Руском дому је 13. фебруара одржана презентација о програмима добијања бесплатног високог образовања на универзитетима Руске Федерације. Потенцијални кандидати су могли да добију детаљну информацију о условима годишњег конкурса за добијање стипендија за бесплатно образовање у Русији у оквиру квота, које су издвојене за српске држављане. Конкурс организује РЦНК од јануара до марта. Кандидати […]
  • Сербские старшеклассники в гостях у Русского Дома 15th Feb 2019
    13 февраля РЦНК Общество русско-сербско-белорусской дружбы из г.Смедерево организовало посещение РЦНК для группы старшеклассников и их преподавателей из г.Смедерево и г.Велика Плана. Для учеников это был первое знакомство с Русским Домом. Сотрудники РЦНК провели ознакомительную экскурсию и рассказали о истории создания и работе центра. В рамках визита сербские школьники смогли посетить открывшуюся в РЦНК выставку […]

Most Viewed Posts

  • Twitter Suspends Hamas Accounts (1,360)
    By ROBERT MACKEYLast Updated, Sunday, Jan. 19 | Several Twitter accounts used by the military wing of Hamas have been suspended by the social network in recent days, angering the Islamist militants and delighting Israel’s military. #Twitter has suspended the official account of #Hamas, a terrorist group that uses social media to threaten #Israel
  • Humanitarian Intervention: Advantages and Disadvantages in East Timor and Kosovo (391)
    Have There Been Occasions on Which the Advantages of Humanitarian Intervention Using Armed Force have Outweighed the Disadvantages? Humanitarian intervention can be defined as the attempts of a foreign state to prevent violations of human rights in another state, often through the use of armed force. The use of armed force to protect human rights,
  • Brain drain in Serbia today (389)
    How does the Serbian government cope with the problem of brain drain today? The latest OECD publication, SOPEMI 2014 shows that 39 thousand persons emigrated in 2012 from Serbia to OECD countries only. (At the beginning of the global economic and financial crisis, the emigration from Serbia to OECD countries amounted to 27,000 in 2008.)

How Belgrade based diplomats use Digital Diplomacy and Internet 2016

Diplo Portal Belgrade

Please follow and like us:
Scroll Up

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)