The Undersea Network
Circuitous Routes: From Topology to Topography
This chapter describes the large-scale cultural forces affecting cable networks from the mid-1900s through the present in order to establish a historical context for the book. It begins with a discussion of how the global telegraph network reflected colonial interests between the 1850s and the 1950s. The second section details how the postwar reinvention of the coaxial cable network negotiated between existing routes of empire, emergent forces of infrastructural decentralization, and a new “club” system of cable laying. The final sections describe how fiber-optic cables were shaped by deregulation and privatization from the 1990s onward. The chapter argues for a consideration of network topography, the examination of how cables have been historically, geographically, and environmentally embedded. It concludes that counter to widespread assumptions, cable geographies do not simply follow terrestrial, urban, or demand-driven logics. Rather, it shows how transpacific cable systems have been constructed in relation to concerns about security, interconnection, and diversity.