- By Carolyn O'HaraCarolyn O'Hara is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.
More than 95 percent of international telephone and data traffic travels via undersea cables. Knowing that, it’s still surprising that an accident in Egypt can bring down most of the Internet… in India. Today, Internet users from Cairo to Calcutta are either without the Web or their service is operating at a fraction of its normal capacity. The culprit? A ship off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt, dragged its anchor and snagged two major underwater telecommunications cables. Unfortunately for Internet addicts in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Pakistan, and India, the SeaMeWe-4 and FLAG Europe-Asia cables, which carry the majority of Internet service between Western Europe and the Middle East and South Asia, were the ones cut. See the handy map below from the folks at TeleGeography for the specifics:
Stephan Beckert at TeleGeography told me that cuts to undersea cables are actually quite common, but rarely does it happen to two cables at once—and to cables that bear so much traffic. Of course, disasters do happen: Internet and telephone service in Asia was disrupted for weeks in December 2006 after nine undersea cables were damaged due to a big earthquake off the coast of Taiwan. But there’s not as much risk of disruption when there are a host of other cables (such as between, say, North American and Europe) for traffic to spill onto. Here’s a fascinating map of the traffic our current system of underwater cables can handle:
It’s unclear when normal service could be restored to the affected countries; it could be a few days or as long as two weeks. The Arabist, an anonymous blogger based in Egypt, sarcastically predicts “complete social breakdown” when people find themselves unable to update Facebook every few minutes. Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that.
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.| Passport |
John Hudson is a staff writer for Foreign Policy where he chases down stories from Foggy Bottom to the White House, the Pentagon to Embassy Row. Between 2009 and 2012, John covered politics and global affairs for The Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August War between Russia and Georgia for Salon.com and other news outlets. Over the years, he's dug up resignation-causing FEC documents; unmasked world-famous Internet trolls; exposed bizarre Photoshopping by government media; and revealed a secret Iranian military facility. John's weakness is cold craft beer from his birthplace of Grand Rapids, Michigan. He's appeared on MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, and other broadcast outlets.| Passport |
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.| Passport |