Global Research, December 21, 2008
Times Online

Breaking news: something's happening to the internet, right now. We're just not quite sure what.

Interoute, the internet networks company, reports that three of the four internet sub-cables that run from Asia to North America have been damaged.

These carry more than 75 per cent of traffic between the Middle East, Europe and America. It's hard to gather what this actually means - is it that the internet is down or (more likely) significantly slower than usual between the Middle East and America? (If you're reading this, let's face it, the internet has not shut down altogether)

But, according to the company, there is a domino effect taking place. Interoute says it is:

hearing that offices have lost their entire private network connectivity. As a result, users are unable to do their daily job over the internet and are turning to their mobile phones to communicate across the globe. This is having a knock on effect on the domestic voice networks, which are getting a surge of calls needing to be routed internationally. These calls need to be routed onto international gateways that pass voice traffic in longer directions around the world to avoid the cable breaks – causing more quality issues and risk more call failures, in turn causing more calls to be placed and increasing the pressure on local voice networks.

What (I think) this means is that companies' private internet services have gone down. So, if they can get access, they have had to go on the public internet and mobile phones, like the rest of us average joes, to get their work done. That results in more strain on mobile phone networks, which means more phone calls go down and the internet becomes slower.

Here's the big problem right now:

Finance companies [are] looking to settle trades on European and American exchanges. This cable outage means there is no real-time access to, for example, trading ticker services. This means branch offices are compromised when trying to place trades. As private networks are being affected, these organisations are forced to rely on public internet services that may have more latency and may not update as quickly. The loss of time even precious seconds is hugely important to trading exchanges. These public internet services are now struggling to cope with peak in demand – leading to increased latency, and further compromising the integrity of the trading data.

I'm told that these major sub-sea cables break once a year. So companies have developed a fall-back plan. If one sub-sea cable is out, traffic is re-routed onto a second cable. In theory, a dual break, where both cables go out at once, is incredibly rare. Prior to January this year, it had not happened before.

The problem with all of this is that it's hard to see the impact, or its significance, until something disastrous happens. So, we're keeping an eye on it and like we said, er, something's happening to the internet.