African Undersea Cables (v.51, July 2020) map by Steve Song (cc-attrib-4.0)
Off the coast of West Africa a cable travels in from the deep ocean to arrive on the beaches of Ghana and Nigeria. But this cable doesn’t connect to the rest of Africa, or to the US or Europe. Rather, it runs direct to the UK, the former colonial power. Likewise, the best connections in Côte d’Ivoire, Mauritania and Senegal all travel back to France. While there are more than 20 cables linking the US and Europe, the first direct connection from Africa across the Atlantic only opened in 2018. That’s a legacy of European Imperial power that lives on in today’s digital infrastructure.
– James Bridle, New Ways of Seeing: Invisible Networks. First broadcast 17 April 2019 on BBC Radio 4.
There’s further discussion of the material substrate of the Internet in pp. 11–14 of this paper (preprint) by Manu Luksch & Mukul Patel, with Manu Luksch, forthcoming in A. Chapman & N. Hume, eds. Coding and Representation from the Nineteenth Century to the Present: Scrambled Messages (Routledge, 2020).