Brazilian Army Brings Internet to the Interior of the Amazon
By Andréa Barretto/Diálogo July 18, 2017In a region covered by forests and crossed by rivers that form natural water highways, the installation of underwater fiber optic cable has proved the best solution for bringing broadband to millions of citizens who live along the rivers. That is the proposal of the Interconnected Amazon Program, conceived and carried out by the Brazilian Army (EB, per its Portuguese acronym) in partnership with other organizations. “After six months of planning, this initiative completed its third stage in six days,” said EB Lieutenant General Decílio de Medeiros Sales, the director of the Department of Industrial Science and Technology at the Ministry of Defense, and general coordinator of the Interconnected Amazon Program. From May 8th to 14th, 600 kilometers of fiber optic cable was laid in the Solimões River, passing through the cities of Manaus, Maracapuru, and Coari, and in the Negro River, connecting Manaus to Novo Airão. “There is a structure of underwater cables coming in from other continents and arriving in Manaus along three lanes. By installing fiber optic cable along riverbeds, we are distributing the signal from Manaus to the interior of Amazonas [state],” Lt. Gen. Decílio explained. The section between Manaus and Coari is part of the so-called Alto Solimões information highway, which provides for the laying of cable through more than a dozen municipalities. The section from Manaus to Novo Airão incorporates the delta of Rio Negro’s information highway, which covers more than three localities on the route towards the western Amazon, arriving at São Gabriel da Cachoeira, a city located on Brazil’s border with Colombia and Venezuela, where EB has a base with special border platoons. Overall, the Interconnected Amazon Program is planning the construction of five information highways, interconnecting a total of 52 localities with nearly 8,000 kilometers of fiber optic cable. Eventually, nearly 3.8 million people should benefit from these broadband services. Building the network Nearly 20 EB service members participated in the third phase of the program. Among them, the Brasília-based team involved in the planning, and the personnel who laid the cable. Approximately 40 civilian professionals worked jointly with the latter group. Once laid in the water, fiber optic cable naturally settles on the riverbed. “Divers are needed only to help situate the cable at critical locations, where there are rocks, for example,” Lt. Gen. Decílio said. Finally, the structure reaches an anchoring point installed in previously determined cities. From the anchoring point, a connection is made between the underwater cable and the land-based cables, thereby enabling data transmission. The signal is preferentially directed towards military organizations, schools, health agencies, and other public agencies but the unused capacity can be commercialized for the general population. A public call for tenders is held for that purpose, in order to choose corporate providers interested in running the service. “One of the conditions is that the company offers a social package with an affordable price for the low-income population. In addition to that, we stipulate a price ceiling for service, which cannot exceed the prevailing price in Manaus,” Lt. Gen. Decílio emphasized. Past, present, and future “The fact today is internet and information technology services available in the interior of Amazonas state are quite precarious,” said EB Lieutenant Colonel Marcelo Corrêa Horewicz, the head of the 4th Area Telematics Center, who manages the program. His unit is under the Army Integrated Telematics Center (CITEx, per its Portuguese acronym) and is connected with the Amazon Military Command (CMA, per its Portuguese acronym). Lt. Col. Corrêa explained that the internet service used by people in the Amazon arrives mainly via satellite, and is often disrupted by local humidity and heavy rains. “There is a need for infrastructure that can keep the signal up at all times, and fiber optic cable is providing greater capacity for that,” Lt. Col. Corrêa stated. From that idea, the EB decided to test the possibility of laying fiber optic cable in the rivers through a pilot project developed in 2015. At that time, 10 kilometers of fiber optics were laid in Negro River to connect two military garrisons located in Manaus. The project worked and paved the way for the program to move forward to the rest of the Amazon. As for the next steps, Lt. Col. Corrêa stated that the program team is planning operations that will provide continuity to the information highway on the delta of Rio Negro, heading towards the city of Barcelos, and from the Alto Solimões information highway to the city of Fonte Boa, which is on the way to Tabatinga, a municipality in the tri-border region between Brazil, Peru, and Colombia. “That will be in the fourth stage of the program, which might also include the installation of cable in the Amazon River,” he said. In this case, the information highway will take the opposite route from previous ones, heading eastward, in the direction of the state of Pará.