Rescue workers search for survivors at a
collapsed building in southern Pingtung county December 27, 2006 after a strong
earthquake shook Taiwan. [Reuters]
Access to overseas websites from the Chinese mainland slowed to a crawl
yesterday as a powerful earthquake off the Taiwan coast knocked off
international undersea fibre-optic cables on Tuesday, affecting communications
It is believed to be the most serious disruption since 2001, when a submarine
cable connecting the mainland with the United States was cut off more than four
times, mostly by fishing boats.
is not clear when normal service will be restored.
China Telecom Corp, the mainland's largest fixed-line carrier, said six
undersea cables were cut off 15 kilometres from the southern coast of Taiwan,
causing severe Internet congestion on the mainland. International voice calls
were also affected.
A survey by Internet portal Sina.com yesterday showed that 97 per cent of
Internet users on the mainland had difficulty accessing overseas websites, and
57 per cent said their lives and work were affected. But access to mainland
websites remains normal.
Such disruptions underscore the increasing importance of back-up systems.
"We have to use alternative cables as well as satellite communications," said
Xu Yongming, an official in charge of China Netcom's international network.
He added that mainland operators are working with their overseas counterparts
to repair the damaged cables.
"Aftershocks off Taiwan make it even harder to repair the damaged cables,"
said a China Telecom spokeswoman.
The disruption affected telecommunications services in Hong Kong, Taiwan,
South Korea, Singapore and Japan and paralyzed some banking services.
In Hong Kong, Internet connection, long distance calls and online financial
transactions were affected, but the stock exchange said operations were normal.
Internet connection speed was much slower than normal. Some overseas websites
in the United States, Britain and Taiwan could not be accessed. Emails and
online chatting were barely functioning.
Internet Society of Hong Kong Chairman Charles Mok said overseas users
connecting to Hong Kong and the mainland's websites were also affected.
Hong Kong Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Centre Manager Roy Ko
said it might take months to repair the cables.
Taiwan's Chunghwa Telecom may be hardest hit. It said repairing the cable
could take three weeks, adding that almost no calls could be made to Southeast
Chunghwa said voice calls to the mainland, Japan and the United States were
down 10, 11 and 40 per cent of normal capacity.
The Chinese mainland is less affected as operators here have alternative
lines away from quake-hit Taiwan, said Xu with Netcom.
He said it may take a shorter time to restore communications on the mainland
but limited capacity could slow down access to overseas websites, especially
during peak hours.
Current Internet networks on the mainland already face a bottleneck in
capacity given the growing popularity of broadband Internet access as well as
data-heavy services such as video downloads.
At the end of November, the mainland had 51 million broadband Internet
subscribers, an increase of 13.7 million compared to the end of last year,
according to the Ministry of Information Industry.
China Telecom Executive Vice-President Leng Rongquan last week said the
current submarine cable network linking China and the US will not be able to
meet demand after 2008.
Six operators from China, South Korea and the United States including Verizon
Business last week signed a deal to build a submarine cable linking China and
the United States at an investment of US$500 million.
The new cable will have more than 60 times the overall capacity of the
existing one linking the United States and China.
Teddy Ng, Louise Ho and Lillian Liu contributed to the story from Hong Kong
(China Daily 12/28/2006 page1)