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Taiwan Earthquake Disrupts Internet Access

What would you do if a major disaster took out your Internet?

A 6.7 magnitude earthquake struck near Taiwan a few days ago. According to Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau measured it at 6.7 and was followed by an aftershock registering 7.0. While two people were killed, the bigger news has been the disruption of Internet access.

According to CNN, telecom companies are quickly putting together access within 48 hours of the earthquake.

Telecom companies quickly cobbled together new telephone and Internet networks on Thursday as Asia began recovering from a Taiwanese earthquake that snapped undersea cables, snarling service across the tech-savvy region.

Less than 48 hours after the powerful quake ruptured the two crucial cables off Taiwan’s southern tip, companies from South Korea to Singapore said they managed to partially restore most of their service to millions of customers.

They did it by rerouting traffic through satellites and cables that weren’t damaged by the 6.7-magnitude tremor that killed two people.

According to various news reports Foreign and domestic banks in Korea and other Asian countries halted business. News and government services also locked up after the earthquake in Taiwan cut off six undersea fiber optic cables linking Taiwan and Korea. According to the The Ministry of Information and Communication, “the earthquake damaged a total of 9,985 communication lines including 9,871 ordinary call lines, 92 dedicated lines and 33 Internet lines. Ordinary call and Internet lines were reconnected via a third country but dedicated lines directly linking Taiwan and Korea were down.”

As we all become dependent upon the Internet and Web, as well as our cell phones and other communications technology, a few seconds of earthquake damage or other disasters can black out entire countries in a flash.

From news articles about the earthquake, it’s fascinating to see how Asia is coping with their loss in communication technology, and how fast companies are scrambling to get back online. Here are a few samples from various news sources around the world.

…The outage reminded stock traders, travelers and online video gamers how addicted they’ve become to the Internet. “Many lost the opportunity to make fast money,” said Francis Lun, general manager at Fulbright Securities in Hong Kong…

…Online gamer Daniel Lee, 28, said he was suffering in Hong Kong because he couldn’t spend his usual eight to 10 hours a day playing games on the Internet. “Most online games are routed through Taiwan, and now I can’t play any of them. I can’t contact a lot of people because my e-mail is down. It’s a hassle and it’s depressing, but I can’t do anything about it,” said Lee, who’s unemployed…

…Long lines formed at Hong Kong’s airport because the computer system at the check-in counters for Taiwan’s China Airlines weren’t working…

…”We are renting transmission capacity from private cable operators,” said Wu Chih-ming. But millions of internet and phone users from South Korea to Hong Kong continued to encounter problems and delays. Hong Kong’s government asked people not to log on to overseas sites unnecessarily…

…The earthquake damaged at least six of Mainland’s optical networks leading out of China, said the report. Instant messaging (IM) tools Skype and MSN messenger were down as well….

…Some foreign exchange trading was reportedly affected. “Trading of the Korean won has mostly halted due to the communication problem,” a dealer at one South Korean domestic bank told Reuters news agency. Several companies have warned of slow internet access over the next few days…

…Taiwan was the worst affected. Chunghwa Telecom said 60 percent of the phone lines to the U.S. were cut off and 98 percent of communication linking Taiwan with Malaysia and Singapore suffered disruptions…

…”I haven’t experienced anything like this before,” said Francis Lun, general manager at Fulbright Securities, one of many Hong Kong financial firms that were forced to conduct business by telephone on Wednesday. “We’ve become too dependent on these optic fibers — a few of them get damaged, and everything collapses. Many lost the opportunity to make fast money.”…

As the world becomes more Internet savvy and technologically dependent, the world must come up with more earthquake, natural, and manmade disaster-resistant technology.

Business Week also covered the “telecom network fragility” issue:

Analysts and industry insiders said the service disruption — caused by the rupture of two undersea data transmission cables in Tuesday’s earthquake in Taiwan — is a sign of the vulnerability the world’s telecommunications network, which was frenetically built out at the height of the Internet boom but has since attracted little investment.

However, activity is picking up, and the quake outage could open eyes to the need for more backup links.

“We are so accustomed to being connected at all points that it does shock people when suddenly it’s no longer there,” said telecommunications analyst Tim Dillon. “Particularly in this region, which is tremendously connected in terms of mobile (phone), data and Internet use.”

The Blog Herald felt the earthquake’s impact and reported that while Internet access was available, some sites were down and access was slow and spotty. Author J. Angelo Racoma also offered a few tips on how to deal with a “one calamity–or force majeure as some would put it–to bring us back to the dark ages.”

What to do in times like these? Well, coming from someone whose means of living is heavily dependent on a decent Internet connection, I can say I can still manage and survive.

* Have a backup plan. If you can connect to your broadband provider, but cannot access websites, chances are your ISP connects through the pipes that were affected. Other ISPs may already have backup links that work. Try connecting using dialup instead (check with the company first or with people you know who use that ISP if they’re already online). Or you can try connecting through a proxy server that has a decent uplink…
* Avoid International calls. I know it’s the holidays and it’s the time for greeting friends and family wherever they may be. But I’m sure your friends and relatives in other parts of the world would understand if you cannot get in touch with them for now.
* Inform everyone that you’ll be unavailable for the next few days (or weeks). Maybe you can still post on your blog, or you know someone with a working connection you can send email with. At least people won’t wonder where the heck you’ve been.

Without Internet or telephone access, that leaves the old fashioned snail mail services, so within two to ten days, you can notify friends, family, and business folks that you are cut off. But, by then the Internet should be turned back on. 😉

The final recommendation is to “relax and chill out”. Just relax and don’t do any tech until things are back to normal. Why not? Everyone needs a break once in a while.

While many are upset with this dramatic loss of Internet access, a BBC news article reminded us that this earthquake arrived on the second anniversary of the Asian tsunami, which claimed almost 250,000 lives. There are things much worse than being cut off from online computer games.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network

Member of the 9Rules Blogging Network


  1. Posted December 30, 2006 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Yes, everyone should relax and sit back, and think of the important things in life.

    Remember those who suffered during the tsunami, the tragedy of it all…life is too short.

  2. Posted December 30, 2006 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Well, the holidays are supposed to be a time for relaxing. But sometimes planning vacations, packing, and actually going on trips can be quite stressful!

    At any rate, connection to the rest of the world seems to be fast now.

  3. Posted December 30, 2006 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Hey Lorelle… I was one of the people affected! I had no access to overseas sites for a day or two, but things are slowly recovering now as the cables are being put back in place.

    What did I do? I worked offline – wrote articles, read books, and spent some time out with real people :mrgreen:

  4. Posted December 30, 2006 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    For those of us who don’t depend on our web connectivity to put food on our tables (that would include me!), this is indeed a terrific reminder to spend more time in the physical world. And for those who do, the Taiwan earthquake was truly a good test run and reminder for getting disaster plans in place.

    Happy New Year to you dear Lorelle. Looking forward to a 2007 filled with many more of your interesting, useful insights.

  5. Posted January 1, 2007 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    That’s why God invented things like nature…with sand, sea, sun and some very attractive beach life. At the end of it, there is still a whole world beyond that door rather than just beyond the screen.

    Why not make 2007 a time to start living in that part of the world instead?

  6. qk zhu
    Posted January 7, 2007 at 3:10 am | Permalink

    Any backup plan in the international scope ? I believe some mechanism such as United Nations need to worry about the security of the internet fibers. Can we build more lines across the world ? Maybe the wireless network will be the solution.

  7. Posted July 23, 2007 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Article about losing the internet when thousands could have died.
    I think people should get a gripe on whats important in life.

7 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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