Computer scientists from the University of Wisconsin have created a map of long-distance fiber-optic Internet cable in the U.S., with the goal of making the Internet more resilient to disasters and intentional attacks.
The cables shown on the map are those owned by major companies such as AT&T, and were not previously viewable for the public, despite being part of major public infrastructure.
The map itself and the data behind it are a culmination of four years of work. It will be made available by the Department of Homeland Security through a project called Predict, which is aimed at providing information related to Internet security.
"Our intention is to help improve security by improving knowledge," said Paul Barford, a computer scientist at the University of Wisconsin, in an interview with Mashable. "I think the map highlights that there are probably many opportunities to make the network more robust."
Knowing exactly where Internet lines lie could be very helpful to understanding what kind of an effect natural disasters could have on the Internet. Though the Internet itself is accessible to the public, it is nevertheless a network put together by privately owned companies. Communications companies might sometimes show schematics of some of their core networks, but this is often done without much attention to geographical detail. While some government agencies might have their own maps, these are not public.
The map was created by going through public records required to actually lay down the cables, which were held by county clerks and other official bodies. These records show exactly where the cables lie, both in public land and in private land.
The map – and the data behind it – is likely to become more valuable as Internet policy becomes more important to society, and could even have implications when it comes to net neutrality.