Hong Kong (AFP) Dec 28, 2006
Internet and phone services were disrupted across much of Asia on Wednesday after an earthquake damaged undersea cables, leaving one of the world's most tech-savvy regions in a virtual blackout. From frustrated traders seeking in vain for stock quotes to anxious newshounds accustomed to round-the-clock updates on world events, millions of people from China to Japan to Australia were affected.
The disruption was widespread, hitting China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and elsewhere, with knock-on effects as far away as Australia for companies whose Internet is routed through affected areas.
There was no chaos on the stock exchanges or any of the other doomsday scenarios, but reports that services could be down for weeks were dramatic enough.
South Korea's information and communication ministry said all six undersea fibreoptic cables off Taiwan were hit, causing major disruption. All services, except for exclusive business lines, returned to normal shortly afterwards as they were switched to other systems.
But officials could not put a timeframe on when business lines would be fixed. "It is not a matter of days," said Hong Seoung-Yong, a ministry official handling the problem. "It will take longer than that to repair the damaged lines."
A 7.1-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Taiwan on Tuesday night, which was followed by several smaller quakes in the region, apparently damaged the vast network of underwater cables that enables modern communication.
"The Internet capacity in Taiwan is about 40 percent now, so the service is jammed," said a spokesman for Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan's largest phone company.
In China, web users in cities as far apart as Beijing in the north and Chongqing in the southwest reported difficulties accessing overseas websites, state media reported.
The earthquake cut at least six undersea cables owned by China Telecom, one of the country's largest telecomunications and broadband providers, affecting Internet links with America, Europe and other regions, Xinhua news agency quoted the company as saying. China Mobile, another top Chinese telecom provider, also reported problems.
Xinhua said repair work was likely to be hampered by aftershocks expected to continue for up to a week.
Phone services in some countries were also disrupted, in particular for calls to the United States.
"Several undersea data cables were damaged," said a spokesman for PCCW, Hong Kong's biggest telecoms company.
Service providers quickly tried to redirect customers to the cables that had not been affected but the reduced capacity was no match for the normal workload of users, leaving an Internet service that was painfully slow or non-existent.
"It's a nightmare, basically, because we have no idea what is going on in the markets today," said Steve Rowles, an analyst with CFC Seymour in Hong Kong, who echoed others in saying that damage was limited due to year's end.
"It has happened on the right day as a lot of people are away for holidays, so there's low trading volumes," he said.
The Tokyo Stock Exchange, the world's largest bourse outside of New York, was functioning without problems, a spokesman said.
The Hong Kong stock exchange also said it was also working without problems, but after-hours crude trading in Singapore was affected as traders reported they could not access the New York Mercantile Exchange (Nymex).
NTT Communications, the long-distance call business of Japan's largest telecom firm Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., said 1,400 toll-free phone lines and 84 international lines used internally by companies were affected.
The crux of the trouble seemed to be in the underseas routes near Taiwan, which providers would try to bypass in favour of other routes through Europe, said a spokesman for Japanese telecoms firm KDDI Corp, Satoru Ito.
"If there is too much traffic on that route, it might get blocked up and further slow down Internet connections," Ito said.
earlier related report
The earthquake, measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale, hit southern Taiwan hard late Tuesday and disturbed several of the massive submarine cables running offshore which link countries in Asia with the United States and beyond.
Analysts said most international telecommunications are now carried by submarine cable, forming a multi-billion dollar network that spans the globe.
Booming demand for increasingly sophisticated services is met by continually adding capacity but as countless users found out on Wednesday, they have become ever more dependent on a system which can be vulnerable at certain key points.
Independent telecommications analyst Paul Budde said in a report earlier this year that the first undersea cables were laid about 150 years ago to transmit telegrams and they have evolved to reflect changing technology.
The Australia-based analyst said it cost up to 500,000 US dollars a kilometre (1,000 yards) to lay modern cables and recently, there had been an increase in development of submarine infrastructure as demand for broadband Internet and cheap telephone services increased.
"Changes in undersea systems have taken place on a giant scale -- not since the initial building of these networks 150 years ago have we seen such activity, mainly driven by the increase in data traffic.
"Systems that were built as late as 1998 proved to be inadequate for the demand in capacity required a mere 18 months later.
"Within a period of a few short years, there were ... at least 1,000 long-distance carriers and 10,000 ISP (Internet service providers) requiring global connectivity," he said.
The disruption Wednesday was widespread, hitting services in China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong, with knock-on effects elsewhere.
Operators said repairs were underway, with traffic being redirected over other cable systems in the meantime in an effort to ensure some services were available, albeit slower than normal.
Source: Agence France-Presse
South Korean Information And Communication Ministry
When the Earth Quakes
Bring Order To A World Of Disasters
Fund To Build 46,000 Homes, Shelters For Indonesian Java Quake Victims
Jakarta (AFP) Dec 20, 2006
A project to build 21,500 permanent houses and 24,500 temporary shelters for victims of the Java earthquake and tsunami was launched Wednesday, the World Bank said. Some 6,000 people were killed and 300,000 homes destroyed or seriously damaged in the May 27 quake which hit the ancient city of Yogyakarta and its surrounding area. More than 600 were killed in the July tsunami which hit the southern coast of Java.
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