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A third underwater cable is cut in Middle East

Repairs set to start next week; disruptions continue

February 1, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A third underwater fiber-optic cable was cut today in the Persian Gulf, off the coast of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, according to its owner Flag Telecom, compounding Internet problems in the Middle East and India, the BBC reported today.

The third cable, known as the Falcon cable, comes after breaks in two cables off the Mediterranean seacoast on Wednesday.

Those breaks required carriers to reroute Internet traffic from the U.S. to India and other nations in the Middle East the other way around the world, across the Pacific Ocean, leading to some Internet delays.

The cause of the first two breaks is believed to be a result of a ship's anchor that dragged and snapped the cables, and a similar cause might be involved in the third incident.

Flag Telecom will start repairs next week on one of the first two cables linking Egypt and Italy, the company said today. A repair ship is expected to reach the site of the damage, 8.3 kilometers (about five miles) from Alexandria, Egypt, on Tuesday. The repair will take a week to complete.

The breaks on Wednesday were to the Flag Telecom Europe-Asia cable, owned by India's Reliance Communications Ltd., and on the South East Asia-Middle East-West Europe 4 (SEA-ME-WE 4) cable, owned by a consortium that includes Verizon Communications Inc. in New York. The cable damage disrupted the Internet and other communications to the Middle East and India.

Flag said the Europe-Asia cable was cut at 8 a.m. GMT on Wednesday. The company also said it was able to restore circuits to some customers and was switching to alternative routes for others.

Many customers in India were shifted by their service providers from the Middle East links to Asia-Pacific routes. But the new routing increased the time-lag heard on long-distance telephone calls, and also led to degradation of Internet service to the U.K. and the East Coast of the U.S., said Rajesh Chharia, president of the Internet Service Providers' Association of India.

Some analysts said consumers and smaller business customers had to endure service disruptions as providers tried to meet their service-level agreements with large corporate customers.

The Indian government announced late yesterday that Indian service providers, including members of the SEA-ME-WE 4 consortium, are in constant touch with Telecom Egypt to ensure the speedy repair of the SEA-ME-WE 4 and Flag cables connecting India to Western Europe. Repairing this type of submarine optical-fiber cable typically takes 15 days, but the Indian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology expects this link will be completely restored within 10 days.

Flag Telecom also owns the third cable, the Falcon cable, between the United Arab Emirates and Oman, which was cut on Friday at 6 a.m. GMT, at a location 56 kilometers from Dubai, Flag said today. A repair ship has been notified and is expected to arrive at the site of the damage in the next few days, the company said.

Keynote Systems in San Mateo, Calif., which measures Web performance, said that the third cable cut near Dubai means users in India and the Middle East will likely continue to see Web site load times increase by 50% to 100% for Web sites hosted abroad.

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