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Bahamas Internet Cable System (BICS-1) NSA/GCHQ-Tapped Undersea Cable Atlantic Ocean, 2015 C-Print 60 × 48 in. Copyright Trevor Paglen. Courtesy of the Artist, Metro Pictures New York, Altman Siegel San Francisco

Undersea Cables Connect LA to the Pacific Rim 15 MIN, 48 SEC

The internet seems virtual but it’s “primarily made of fiber optic cables, cables filled with light,” according to “Tubes” author Andrew Blum.

A manhole cover in Hermosa Beach is the access point for a transpacific fiber optic cable built by TyCom in 2002. Photo credit: Avishay Artsy.

Those cables run under the oceans, “a space that's inhospitable to humans” says Nicole Starosielski, author of “The Undersea Network,” yet “enables the most high tech communications that we currently have.”

Currently there is a splurge of undersea cable construction going on in the Pacific, connecting the Southland to the Pacific Rim and back to One Wilshire in downtown Los Angeles.

One of the primary landing spots is the city of Hermosa Beach.

DnA finds out why, what the benefits are to Hermosa Beach and why some places are not excited about hosting cable landings.

South America (SAM-1) NSA/GCHQ-Tapped Undersea Cable Atlantic Ocean, 2015 C-Print 16 × 20 in. Copyright Trevor Paglen. Courtesy of the Artist, Metro Pictures New York, Altman Siegel San Francisco

We also learn about what’s involved in laying the cables and hear from activist-artist Trevor Paglen about his quest to photograph them at the bottom of the deep dark sea. We also explore why Big Tech is getting into the business of owning the infrastructure. The Pacific Light Cable Network will be one of the biggest in the pipeline. Google and Facebook, along with partners in Asia, are building the nearly eight thousand mile long cable. Landing at Dockweiler Beach, it will connect Los Angeles and Hong Kong, and will be able to move data at a speed of 120 terabits per second. Google says that’ll make it possible to have 80 million concurrent HD video conference calls between Hong Kong and LA.

But what are the implications of increased connectivity, when it feels like our data is out of our control?

Francie Stefan, City of Santa Monica
Ken Robertson, Director of Community Development, Hermosa Beach
Ryan McDonald, Covers Hermosa Beach for a local news outlet called Easy Reader News. (@ryanmichaelmcdo)
Nicole Starosielski, Professor at New York University and author of “The Undersea Network.”
Andrew Blum, journalist and author (@ajblum)
Chris Brungardt, Senior vice president of RTI, an undersea fiber optic cable developer
Ingrid Burrington, Author (@lifewinning)
Trevor Paglen, Artist and photographer (@trevorpaglen)

Submarine Cable Map
In our Wi-Fi world, the internet still depends on undersea cables
10 Facts About the Internet's Undersea Cables
Economist: Tech giants are building their own undersea fibre-optic networks
Nat and Lo: A Journey To The Bottom Of The Internet (video)
New York Times: Facebook Faces a New World as Officials Rein In a Wild Web
The World’s Network of Submarine Cables

Could the fourth border be a ferry route? 11 MIN, 51 SEC

Communities along the Southern California coast generally do not use the sea as a transportation route. Why not? And might that change?

DnA explores whether it could be possible for beach cities to be connected by ferry services.

We go to the end of the Santa Monica Pier with Curbed editor Alissa Walker to observe the remains of the breakwater that once created a safe harbor for yachts, fishing vessels,and gambling ships in the Santa Monica Bay. And we ask the city’s mobility manager Francie Stefan if sea transit might ever be restored.

Alissa Walker at the Santa Monica Pier, with the former breakwater in the background. Photo credit: Frances Anderton.

We learn from Captain Dan Salas what the challenges, and opportunities, are for running a ferry service today.

First and foremost, you “need a safe port for passengers,” he says, explaining how most of the Southland’s beach cities sit on open sea.

Add to that powerful headwinds and high swells, then you have to guarantee the passengers, making sure “you are 70 to 80 percent full in order to cover your fuel, your insurance, the cost of the vessel, the maintenance and the inspections and the upkeep, because they’re all regulated by the federal government and the United States Coast Guard,” Salas says, adding that running a ferry boat is “almost like running a large aircraft.”

Dan Salas, founder of Harbor Breeze Cruises. Photo credit: Frances Anderton.

But he believes it is feasible nonetheless, adding that the first test might come with the possible arrival of SpaceX at Terminal Island, between San Pedro and Long Beach. Salas is considering offering an electric-motorized ferry service for workers who would have to park on the San Pedro side of the harbor.

We learn the topic has been discussed in the City of Hermosa Beach. A ferry service has been floated as a possible application of tidelands funds earned from the cable landing sites.

If ferry service could serve as a welcome connection for stressed-out Westside commuters, it might be essential in the future.

Francie Stefan explains that as ocean levels rise, and tidal events might block PCH, we are going to have to figure out ways both “to enjoy the coast and to get up and down the coast… But I also think by introducing water based transportation we can actually start to break down some of that fourth border.”

Bridges and Walls is supported in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency.

And special thanks to NPR’s Story Lab.

Follow this series at KCRW.com/BridgesandWalls

Sam Lubell, architecture writer
Alissa Walker, Curbed (@awalkerinLA)
Dan Salas, Founder of Harbor Breeze Cruises
Francie Stefan, City of Santa Monica
Ken Robertson, Director of Community Development, Hermosa Beach
Ryan McDonald, Covers Hermosa Beach for a local news outlet called Easy Reader News. (@ryanmichaelmcdo)

Could a ferry solve the Westside’s traffic problem?
DnA: Fixing Westside traffic with a ferry service
Santa Monica: The Road in the Sea

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