Clog in the Pipes

Peter Savodnik and Jennifer Daniel


On March 22, 10 miles off the coast of Egypt, a ship’s anchor apparently sliced two fiber-optic cables: TE North, which links Europe with Africa; and EIG, which continues on to Asia. Five days later, the SEA-ME-WE 4 cable, about 20 miles away, was cut. The Egyptian Navy says it’s arrested three scuba divers as suspects. Whatever the cause, the cuts have delayed an estimated 1 trillion bytes of data, leaving about 1 billion people from Algeria to Sri Lanka with up to 60 percent slower Internet connections.

The Asian Bottleneck

Much of the Middle East and South Asia rely on two digital arteries for the Internet: One wraps around the Horn of Africa; the other, which has much more capacity, runs along Egypt’s Mediterranean coast and through the Suez Canal.

Danger, Danger

If an undersea volcano erupts, multiple cables could be destroyed, crippling the Internet across Asia. This area is also a popular destination for Somali pirates.

A Possible Fix

The proposed Freedom Cable would stretch from Kuwait to Guam, avoiding several trouble spots. At $27,000 per kilometer, the cable would cost as much as $1 billion, according to Sunil Tagare, CEO of BuySellBandwidth, and the founding member of a consortium trying to build it. Tagare hopes it will be complete by 2015.

The Singapore Bottleneck

Singapore is another weak spot: Twelve cables cross the island. If they were severely damaged, half the world would be disconnected. The proposed Freedom Cable would have a branch connecting to Singapore, but the main cable would circumvent it.

An earlier disruption

Internet connectivity in the Middle East was disrupted in 2008 when ship anchors cut through cables, slowing Web traffic between Europe and Africa by as much as 70 percent.

Cutting Underwater Cables

Some remain skeptical that a cable with so much electrical current running through it can be cut by an individual. Others say that it just needs to be squeezed tightly to cause a disruption.



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