Internet disruption may last for week or longer

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 December, 2006, 12:00am

Taiwanese quake damages six of the seven major cables serving Hong Kong

Internet users in Hong Kong could face up to a week or more of disruptions as efforts get under way to repair underwater telecommunications cables damaged in Tuesday's earthquake off Taiwan.

The government estimates it will take at least five to seven days to repair six submarine cables that connect Hong Kong to the US, Canada, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea.

The director-general of the Office of Telecommunications Authority, Au Man-ho, yesterday confirmed that six of the seven major cables serving Hong Kong were damaged, effectively crippling 90 per cent of the total capacity.

Five ships from Singapore and the Philippines were on their way yesterday to the Luzon Strait between Taiwan and Hong Kong to carry out the repairs, but any further tremors and damage to the seabed could delay the repair work, the government admitted.

Mr Au said operators had taken emergency measures to divert internet traffic along other routes, and long-distance phone and roaming services to all destinations except Taiwan were back to normal.

'Operators gave priority to restoring telephone services first and internet traffic will inevitably be congested until some of the cable systems have been repaired,' he said.

A spokesman for I-Cable said 70 per cent of its services had resumed, while Hong Kong Broadband said its services had been fully restored. PCCW would not reveal its recovery rate.

The mainland, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam all experienced disruptions to internet services after the 7.1 magnitude Boxing Day quake struck.

Xinhua said that by yesterday morning, China Telecom's phone and special line services to all destinations had resumed, but only 15 per cent of internet connections to international websites were working normally. Broadband connections to overseas websites were running at 60 per cent, but connections to North America were still seriously jammed.

China Telecom said it was trying to restore the disrupted telecommunications from the mainland to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau.

Taiwan said yesterday most of its data and phone services had been restored by routing through other countries, but it would take at least two weeks for its damaged undersea cables to be fully repaired.

Lin Jen-hung, vice-president of Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan's biggest service provider, said voice traffic from Taiwan to the US and Japan had been restored to 70 per cent of normal capacity, while traffic to the mainland was at 55 per cent and to Europe 60 per cent.

He said voice traffic to Singapore was now at 55 per cent of capacity, while that to Thailand had risen to 40 per cent and to Hong Kong 30 per cent. But it would take at least two weeks for a return to normal.

In Hong Kong, MSN instant messaging services came back online at about 7pm last night, but overseas websites remained slow or impossible to access.

Chair professor Chiang Kin-seng of the electronic engineering department at City University said recovery of the phone systems had been quite quick. 'We are talking about millions of phone calls going through a cable and in just one or two days, things were restored.'

Internet Society chairman Charles Mok Nai-kwong said the damaged cables were owned by several companies and there was little the government could do to speed up repairs.