EU mulling investment in South America-Europe undersea cable

New cable would circumvent NSA spying - Brazilian President

The European Union is considering helping to fund a $185-million project to lay an undersea cable from Brazil to Europe.

The project, which is already under way, is being carried out by Brazilian telecoms provider Telebras and Spain's IslaLink Submarine Cables.

The project is of strategic importance to "guarantee the neutrality" of the Internet, said Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff following a Brazil-E.U. summit in Brussels on Monday. Brazil currently relies on U.S. undersea cables to carry almost all of its communications to Europe via Miami as the existing cable between Europe and Brazil is outdated and can only be used for voice.

Although the issue was not formally on the summit agenda, both Rousseff and E.U. leaders are worried about U.S. National Security Agency surveillance. Rousseff postponed a state visit to Washington last year in protest at spying on her phone, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose mobile phone was also tapped, last week called for a E.U.-only cloud. Rousseff said Brazil and the European Union have "similar concerns" about U.S. dominance of fibre-optic cables.

"Since we ourselves at EU are keen to promote a globalised system of internet governance, this is an idea that is of interest to a lot of people," said a European Commission source on Tuesday. "However, this is a commercial venture and we are assessing possible public participation, but it's too early to say what might happen," he added.

The building of a cable has been a priority for both Brazil and the E.U. since 2010, and was reconfirmed at a summit of EU and Latin American heads of state in Santiago de Chile in January 2013. However, it is unlikely that the E.U. would agree to public funding equal to that of Brazil.

Talks between the E.U. and the South American trade bloc Mercosur have stalled recently and new dates will be decided after a technical meeting of negotiators on March 21. The issue of a South America-Europe cable is likely to now be on the agenda.

"The plans for the future installation of a fibre-optic submarine cable linking Brazil and Europe, will improve communications between the two continents, facilitate the take-up of broadband, stimulate ICT investments, reduce the interconnectivity costs for our businesses and researchers and enhance the protection of communications and provide better functional characteristics," said Rousseff in a joint statement with European Council President, Herman Van Rompuy, and European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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