Optical Cable Cuts Disrupt Internet Service in India & the Middle East

Monday Update: Over the weekend repair crews were dispatched for all three cables. Engineers arrived at the SEA-ME-WE3 and SEA-ME-WE4 cables on Sunday. India, Singapore, and about 80 percent of Egypt (according to the Egyptian government) regained internet service. Reliance said it expects the FLAG cable break to be repaired this week. The cause of the cuts remains unclear.

Update: Research firm TeleGeography emailed us that three international submarine cables in the Mediterranean Sea were damaged today, causing disruptions to internet and phone traffic in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India and all of the Gulf states. TeleGeography pinpoints the faults  between Tunisia and Italy, and claims the damaged cables are the FLAG Europe-Asia cable, operated by Reliance Globalcom, and two consortium cables, SeaMeWe-3 and SeaMeWe-4 owned jointly by several telecommunications companies. From the TeleGeography statement:

The current series of faults is reminiscent of the submarine cable faults that occurred in January 2008. Today’s events have the potential to create worse disruptions: while the January 2008 accidents broke two of the three cables connecting Europe with Asia via the Middle East, Friday’s cable failures have caused faults on all three. France Telecom projects that service on all cables will be restored by December 31. Until then, many carriers in the Middle East and South Asia will need to route their European traffic around the globe, through South East Asia and across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

cable_breaks_dec08 It’s unknown if the Malta cable problems are related to these cuts, perhaps from a weather or seismic event. However in the online world the cuts are certainly related in how they will make it that much slower or impossible for users to connect around the world. (Malta cable cut report published earlier follows.)

In a reminder of both the frailty and the flexibility of the web, the Times of Malta is reporting that last night, a submarine cable delivering traffic to subscribers of GO’s broadband service experienced a “fault.” Thousands of Maltese lost their web connections.  Combine Malta’s experience with the earlier epidemic of a few undersea cables getting cut over a period of days, and a fight by Sprint and Cogent in the U.S. over peering agreements that cut off the web for some users, and it becomes clear that we should consider the web not only as physical infrastructure, but also held together by political and economic agreements.

It’s like an information superhighway, but also a like series of treaties that allow trade to various points of the globe. In Malta’s case, an agreement with Vodafone to share its cable kept the physical infrastructure from staying out. But as the Sprint/Cogent peering fight proved, when those agreements fail, the web is vulnerable in a way roads are not.

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