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Ship's anchor cuts Internet access to six East African countries

The outage – caused when the anchor cut a cable – comes as Kenya has assumed a leading regional role in technology, largely due to fast, reliable broadband connections, and could affect growing foreign investment.

By Curt HopkinsCorrespondent / February 29, 2012

A ship dropped anchor off Mombasa, Kenya, and cut the Internet to six African countries earlier this week.

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It will take three weeks to repair the damage. In the meantime, the Internet in Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Juba, the capital of South Sudan, is functioning at a reduced speed. It will impede the normal flow by about 20 percent, according to the BBC's Nairobi correspondent, Noel Mwakugu.

The Indian Ocean East Africa Marine Systems (TEAMS) cable, which connects East Africa to the United Arab Emirates, was severed when a ship dropped anchor in a restricted area – restricted because of the presence of the sea cabling. (See here for an interactive cable map.) The Teams cable was carrying redirected traffic from the earlier cutting of three other cables in the Red Sea, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The outage comes at a time when Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, has assumed a much greater profile as a center of technological innovation and entrepreneurship, largely due to the recent availability of fast, reliable broadband connections. These undersea fiber-optic cables, laid in 2009 and which connect Africa to the world, have kicked off Kenya's high-tech industry and prompted an increase in Kenyan Internet users from 1.8 million to 3.1 million in the first year.

Bitenge Ndemo, Kenya's permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communications, says that the cost of the internet outage could reach $500 million by the time repairs are finished. 

 "We do not have the cost yet but it runs into millions of dollars since TEAMS and EASSY carry almost 70 percent of the traffic from the East African Region," Mr. Ndemo told the Monitor. "Most providers had cut off satelite thinking we have sufficient redundany," Ndemo adds, and the Kenyan government has urged other new cable lines to land elsewhere to prevent future line cuts in the high-traffic sea-lanes outside Mombasa.

In the meantime, Kenya's losses have been significant. "There have been major disruptions and loss of revenue in the past few days," Ndemo says. "In my estimation we shall have lost up to $500 million by the time we are reconnected."


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