Earthquake disrupts Internet access in Asia

Magnitude 6.7 earthquake off the southwest coast of Taiwan damaged undersea cables in Asia

A pair of powerful earthquakes off the coast of Taiwan damaged undersea cables and disrupted telephone and Internet access in Asia on Wednesday.

"All of the ISPs in Singapore are affected," said Michael Sim, a spokesman for Starhub Internet, which provides cable and wireless Internet services, referring to connectivity problems in Singapore. Sim blamed the disruption on damage to undersea cables caused by the earthquakes. Internet access in the city slowed to a crawl and some Web sites were unreachable.

"Everybody's doing their best to migrate [traffic] to alternate routes or to fix the affected routes," Sim said.

Japan's NTT Communications said 84 leased lines were out of service as a result of the problems and international toll-free calling was being disrupted. Conventional international calling was in operation albeit with limited capacity, said Akiko Suzaki, a spokeswoman for the carrier in Tokyo.

A magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck off the southwest coast of Taiwan, near the town of Pingtung, at 8:26 p.m., local time, on Tuesday, according to Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau. The U.S. Geographical Survey (USGS) said it was stronger at 7.1 and Japan's Meteorological Agency estimated it at magnitude 6.9.

That quake was followed by another eight minutes later with a magnitude of 6.4, which the USGS estimated at 7.0 and the Japanese Meteorological Agency estimated at magnitude 7.2. Southern Taiwan was also hit by several powerful aftershocks measuring between magnitude 5.9 and 5.2, the CWB said.

The quakes, among the most powerful to hit Taiwan in recent years, left at least two people dead, according to press reports.

That first quake knocked out parts of the SeaMeWe 3 (South East Asia Middle East Western Europe 3) and APCN2 (Asia Pacific Cable Network 2) underseas cables. Both are major telecommunications arteries in East Asia and their temporary loss is what's led to the problems being observed on Wednesday. Traffic that traversed the cables has been switched onto alternate routes but those other cables are now congested.

As a result Taiwan's telecommunications infrastructure was hit hard, with just 40 percent of international calling capacity to the U.S. functioning normally, Chunghwa Telecom, the country's largest operator, said in a statement. Calling capacity to Japan and China was also affected, with 11 percent and 10 percent of capacity operational, respectively, it said.

Damage to the cables also disrupted Internet access in China, Hong Kong and Singapore, Chunghwa said, noting that it will take up to three weeks to repair the affected cable systems.

In Beijing, a China Network Communications Group (China Netcom) representative, who gave only his surname Chen, said some international connections had been affected. That disruption left some international Web sites accessible in Beijing, while others could not be reached. Chen did not know when full service might be restored.

The region where the earthquake occurs is near the boundary of the Eurasian plate and Philippine plate. The region is one of the most seismically active regions of the globe.

(Steven Schwankert, in Beijing, and Martyn Williams, in Tokyo, contributed to this report.)

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