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Third undersea cable cut in Middle East

MUMBAI (Reuters) - A third undersea cable was cut on Friday, just two days after two breaks near Egypt disrupted Web access in parts of the Middle East and Asia, Indian-owned cable network operator FLAG Telecom said.

File photo of a waiter serving coffee to college students surfing the internet at a cafe in Bangalore. A third undersea cable was cut on Friday, just two days after two breaks near Egypt disrupted Web access in parts of the Middle East and Asia, Indian-owned cable network operator FLAG Telecom said. REUTERS/Savita Kirloskar

Egypt lost more than half its Internet capacity because of Wednesday’s breaks and intends to seek compensation, its ministry of communications said in a news release.

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, played down Wednesday’s disruption, saying they had used back-up plans.

FLAG, a wholly-owned subsidiary of India’s number two mobile operator Reliance Communications, said on its Web site on Friday its FALCON cable had been reported cut at 0559 GMT, 56 kms (35 miles) from Dubai, between the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Egyptian telecom authorities said about 55 percent of the country’s Internet capacity had been restored by Friday, thanks to rerouting of traffic.

Egypt is to ask FLAG and SEA-ME-WE to compensate its Internet and call centre companies.

The communications minister, Tarek Kamel, has also decided to make Egypt’s Internet Service Providers and Telecom Egypt compensate all their Internet subscribers by providing them with a month’s subscription free of charge.

The International Cable Protection Committee, an association of 86 submarine cable operators dedicated to safeguarding undersea cables, has declined to speculate on the cause of the breaches, saying investigations were underway.

It said more than 95 percent of transoceanic telecoms and data traffic are carried by undersea, the rest by satellite.


“The repair ship has been notified and expected to arrive at the (Dubai) site in (the) next few days,” FLAG said.

The Internet Service Providers’ Association of India said cable repair ships had already been sent to fix the breaches off northern Egypt, which are in segments of two intercontinental cables known as SEA-ME-WE-4 and FLAG Europe-Asia.

FLAG said these repairs should start by Feb. 5 and be complete after one week.

Rajesh Chharia, president of the Internet Service Providers’ Association, said all of FLAG’s traffic had now been shifted to the SEA-ME-WE-3 cable network.

FLAG’s rival, Indian Internet service provider Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (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.

U.S. phone companies Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc both use the cables which were affected on Wednesday. AT&T said on Thursday its networks were already back to normal as it had rerouted traffic and Verizon expected service to be restored for all its customers within days.

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.

Additional reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee and Devidutta Tripathy