Luã Fergus Cruz and Laila Lorenzon (17/12/2021). Infrastructure. In Belli, L.; Zingales, N. & Curzi, Y. (Eds.), Glossary of Platform Law and Policy Terms (online). FGV Direito Rio. https://platformglossary.info/infrastructure/.
Authors: Luã Fergus and Laila Lorenzon
Infrastructure, according to the Cambridge Dictionary’s definition1, is “the basic structure of an organization or system which is necessary for its operation”. More specifically, the Internet Infrastructure Coalition (2018)2 defines Internet infrastructure as follows:
Internet infrastructure is the physical hardware, transmission media, and software used to interconnect computers and users on the Internet. Internet infrastructure is responsible for hosting, storing, processing, and serving the information that makes up websites, applications, and content.
Namely, the physical infrastructure comprises all the equipment that transmits data through the network, such as submarine and terrestrial cables, backbones, routers, satellites, antenna towers, and even smartphones (Constantinides et al., 2018)3; and all the equipment that stores internet data, such as data centers and database servers. As for the virtual infrastructure, we have another important set of foundations, for instance, open standards (e.g., IEEE 802.11s), the Internet Protocol suite (TCP/IP), the Domain Name System (DNS), and the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP).
A relevant trend related to infrastructure is the growing investment of online platforms in physical infrastructure, such as submarine cables. This attention to infrastructure is due to the fact that the current foundations are not being sufficient to support the traffic generated by big platforms like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft (Burgess, 2018)4. In addition to the control that such platforms already exercise in the content layer, additional control in the infrastructure layer can exacerbate problems related to competition, privacy, and net neutrality.
Another important problem concerns attacks on critical infrastructure, targeting end-users, devices, network services, and web servers. Computer emergency response teams have done a great job to address this issue and combat these attacks over the last decades (Bada et.al, 2014)5. However, one type of attack that these teams do not address is physical incidents, caused by both humans and animals (Arthur, 2013; Moss, 2020)6 7. The growing threat of a physical attack should not be underestimated, as it can cause huge damage to economies and national security (Starosielski, 2019)8.
- Cambridge Dictionary. (2020). Infrastructure definition. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/infrastructure.
- Internet Infrastructure Coalition (2019). What is the Internet’s Infrastructure? Available at: https://www.i2coalition.com/what-is-the-internets-infrastructure-video/.
- Constantinides, P., Henfridsson, O., Parker, G. G. (2018). Platforms and infrastructures in the digital age. Available at: http://ide.mit.edu/sites/default/files/publications/ISR%202018%20Constantinides%20Henfridsson%20Parker%20Editorial.pdf.
- Burgess, Matt (2018). ‘Google and Facebook are gobbling up the internet’s subsea cables’ Available at: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/subsea-cables-google-facebook.
- Bada, M. et al. (2014). Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRTs): An Overview. Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre. 1-23.
- Arthur, Charles (2013). The Guardian. Undersea internet cables off Egypt disrupted as navy arrests three. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/mar/28/egypt-undersea-cable-arrests.
- Moss, Sebastian (2020). How cows caused a small Google network outage. Available at: https://www.datacenterdynamics.com/en/news/how-cows-caused-small-google-network-outage/.
- Starosielski, Nicole. (2019). Strangling the Internet. Available at: https://limn.it/articles/strangling-the-internet/.