Home » Could a Desal Plant in Fortaleza Disrupt Internet in South America?
Business Featured Global News News South America Technology

Could a Desal Plant in Fortaleza Disrupt Internet in South America?

The construction of a desalination plant on Praia do Futuro beach in Fortaleza, the capital of Brazil’s Ceará state, has caused controversy due to an alleged risk to 17 submarine cables landing in the area.

Fortaleza is the main cable hub in Latin America and the second most connected place in the world, in terms of submarine networks.

The Dessal do Ceará plant is being built by the state’s water and sewage company CageceStructuring started in 2017 to deal with the risk of water scarcity.

“It’s very serious. The submarine cables that connect the country with the rest of the world, with Europe, North America, Africa, are all there. The plant was designed to be built exactly on top of the cables,” Marcos Ferrari, president of Brazilian telcos association Conexis, told BNamericas.

After intense pressure, Cagece initially agreed to locate the plant up to 500m away from the main cable points. For the telecoms sector, however, the risk remains.

“They moved the maritime part. That doesn’t solve it. The terrestrial part is exactly next to the datacenters,” said Ferrari. The executive claimed that Ceará has 500km of coastline that could accommodate the plant “without harming the internet.”

Telecoms regulator Anatel has been directly involved in the case, given the alleged risks to communications in the country and across the region.

“We are sending a working group there in the next few days to evaluate the new design, to discuss and to debate the project. But the way it is, the plant continues to put the cable ecosystem at risk,” Anatel’s president Carlos Baigorri told BNamericas on the sidelines of the Futurecom event.

On October 5, at the invitation of Ceará industry federation Fiec, Anatel and Cagece representatives participated in a seminar on the topic. It was agreed to create a joint working group, which should find a solution that takes into account the interests of the parties involved within 30 days.

Tatiana Fonseca, senior VP of Cirion Technologies, one of the companies with cables landing in Fortaleza, is optimistic. Fonseca told BNamericas recently that the state has signaled to be open to a temporary suspension, which also was announced, of the project. 

“We are organized and with a single purpose. The seven companies [that have cables in the city] are working very hard to raise awareness about the issue. This risk is so high that we could affect basic connectivity for the entire northeast region, and even for other parts of South America,” the executive said. “It’s very serious.” 

Cirion is currently dealing with the damage a vessel caused to the Fortaleza-Rio de Janeiro section of its SAC cable last month.

Fonseca emphasized that she is not opposed to the plant, but that it is necessary to consider what makes more sense and is more economically viable: moving all the cables and structures to another part of the coast or moving the plant, which has not yet been built. 

“We strongly believe that Anatel’s recent involvement in the case is essential to expand the discussion at a national level,” she said. “What is being done does not exist anywhere in the world.”

She also said that the case should serve as an example for the country to think about protection and security zones for critical communications such as submarine cables.

The executive ruled out, for now, legal challenges to the project.

Although the president of Cagece, Neuri Freitas, has signaled openness to dialogue, Cagece said the position of telecom companies does not consider impacts on the water supply to Fortaleza.

In a note shared with BNamericas, Cagece said the project has the due environmental licenses and has undergone public consultations and public hearings.

In addition, the city council passed related legislation and the state’s PPP management council and audit court validated the project.

Cagece argues that the plant does not present any risk to the operation of submarine cables and that the 500m project change “complies with international regulations for the protection of submarine cables.”

“This modification alone should represent an increase of around 35-40mn reais for the execution of the project. If the plant is not built in Praia do Futuro, the plant will be much more expensive, as costs will be added in the form of pipelines to the reservoirs in Fortaleza – and these could intersect with optical fibers on the continent,” Cagece said.

Regarding the choice for Praia do Futuro, Cagece said the location has excellent water, good sea currents to disperse the waste and is close to its reservoirs.

According to the entity, these factors reduce works on public roads and help lower investment and cost values.

“It is worth noting that the land area of Praia do Futuro coexists with water, sewage, gas, drainage, energy, internet cables and rail networks without there having ever been interference on the part of any of them in relation to the other. Cagece, for example, has been carrying out works and maintenance in the area for decades, without ever causing any damage to the operation of internet cables,” the entity said.

According to Cagece, “Anatel’s position can be considered simplistic, as it did not take into account specialists in water resources and does not present new facts or technical arguments.”

Source : BN Americas