The Speed of the Earth

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In any network, power is the privilege to interrupt. A point highlighted in Alaskan State Senator Ted Stevens’ infamous 2006 “Series of tubes” argument opposing net-neutrality, in which he eloquently claimed, “Ten movies streaming across that, that Internet, and what happens to your own personal Internet? I just the other day got… an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday. I got it yesterday [Tuesday]. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially. […] the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes.” While absurd, Stevens’ clogged tubes strike us as hilarious precisely because his argument relies less on the ubiquitous contemporary myth of the internet as a post-territorial cloud, than it does on an anachronistic, though arguably more accurate analog of the internet as a super-highway. The net is the brute arrangement of physical infrastructures buried in the dirt, and for all of its much-lauded irreverence to geography, its inter-territoriality isn’t so much the drift of a post-national electric cloud, as it is the under-earth leakage of clogged tubes. In any network, power is the privilege to interrupt.

Take, for example, Article 36 of the Second Oslo agreement between Israel and Palestine, which stipulated that, “Israel recognizes the right of the Palestinian side to establish telecommunication links (microwave and physical) to connect the West Bank and the Gaza Strip through Israel.” A few short months after the agreement’s ratification, while clouds were replacing super-highways as the dominant cultural analog of the internet, just such a microwave link, drifting between two halves of a separated state, was completed. But while initially lending credence to the myth of an overcast post-geographic internet, Palestine’s microwave link soon supplied a readymade answer to Stevens’ long- ridiculed rhetorical question:

Q: “Ten movies streaming across that, that Internet, and what happens to your own personal Internet?”

A: It leaks through someone else’s tubes.

Days after Palestine’s microwave link was operational its bandwidth quota was maxed out, its electromagnetic “tubes” were clogged, and the signals which it purported to send were, in fact, rerouted through Israel’s neighboring communications infrastructure.

The Second Oslo Accord granted Palestine the right to construct their own internal broadcasting infrastructure, even as it reified a preexisting Israeli monopoly over the region’s international routing switches, fiber-optic networks, and the allocation of local signal bandwidth. The famed 1995 agreement promised Palestine digital independence through the right to construct and autonomously manage their own private cloud, but its fine print specified the very impossibility of Palestine’s signal sovereignty by awarding Israel a monopoly over the underlying “tubes” that make the myth of any cloud possible in the first place. In disengaging from the fraught physical occupation of the Gaza Strip, while bolstering their control over the physical substrates of Palestine’s digital communications networks, Israel is pioneering a form of dromological occupation that substitutes the control of geography for the manipulation of speed, and the power of violence for the privilege to interrupt.

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