Sunday, February 3, 2008

Internet crisis deepens

INTERNET DISRUPTION: The Falcon network runs from Egypt to India, linking 11 countries in the region.

A third undersea cable has been cut after breaks near Egypt earlier this week disrupted web access in parts of the Middle East and Asia, Indian-owned cable network operator Flag Telecom said on Friday.

Undersea cable connections were disrupted off Egypt's northern coast on Wednesday, affecting internet access in the Gulf region and south Asia, and forcing service providers to reroute traffic.

The Internet Service Providers' Association of India said earlier on Friday cable repair ships had been sent to fix the breaches, which are in segments of two intercontinental cables known as SEA-ME-WE-4 and Flag Europe-Asia.

Flag said a repair ship was expected to arrive at that site by February 5 and repair work would be completed a week from then.

Earlier on Friday, Chharia had said India's internet services were operating at about 80% of capacity, but he later told newswire Reuters there were no issues with connectivity at the moment.

Flag's rival, Indian internet service provider Videsh Sanchar Nigam (VSNL), said the majority of its internet services to the Middle East and North Africa had been restored within 24 hours, as had services to India.

VSNL said in a statement it had used the SEA-ME-WE-3, SEA-WE-ME-4 eastbound and TIC cable to reroute customer traffic.

India's booming outsourcing industry, which provides a range of back-office services like insurance claims processing and customer support to overseas clients over the internet, have played down the disruption, saying it had back-up plans in place.

The International Cable Protection Committee, an association of 86 submarine cable operators dedicated to safeguarding submarine cables, says more than 95% of transoceanic telecoms and data traffic are carried by submarine cables, and the rest by satellite.

One of the biggest disruptions of modern telecoms systems was in December 2006, when a magnitude 7.1 earthquake broke nine submarine cables between Taiwan and the Philippines, cutting connections between southeast Asia and the rest of the world.

Internet links were thrown out in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines, disrupting the activities of banks, airlines and all kinds of email users.

Traffic was rerouted through other cables, but it took 49 days to restore full capacity.

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