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Firm: Ship's anchor cut Mideast Internet cable

  • Story Highlights
  • Three undersea Internet cables off Dubai, Egypt to be online in days, officials say
  • Cut cables hurt Mideast Web traffic last week, prompting conspiracy theories
  • Severed undersea cables quite common and sabotage unlikely, analyst says
  • Analyst: "Tin-foil hat crowd" suspects U.S. military or terrorists behind snafu
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(CNN) -- A telecommunications company on Friday blamed a ship anchor for cutting one of three severed undersea cables that snarled Internet traffic throughout the Middle East last week.

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FLAG Telecom blamed the slicing of its Persian Gulf cable on this abandoned six-ton ship anchor.

FLAG Telecom's FALCON cable spanning Dubai and Oman was snapped February 1 by an abandoned six-ton ship anchor, the company said, and will be repaired by Sunday.

The cut cables linking the Mideast not only fouled up communications, but they also provided prime fodder for Web-based conspiracy theorists around the world.

"Fundamentally, if somebody wants to cut a cable, they can do so -- all you need to do is go trawling with an anchor," said Stephan Beckert an analyst with TeleGeography, a research company that consults on global Internet issues. He scoffed at conspiracy theories posted online by what he calls "the tin-foil hat crowd."Video Watch source of disruption »

FLAG said Friday that its severed Europe-Asia Internet cable in the Mediterranean Sea that links Egypt and Italy also would be repaired by Sunday.

A third cut cable, called SeaMeWe-4, lies just a few hundred meters from FLAG's Europe-Asia line. It's co-owned by France Telecom and is expected to be back in working order soon, said Beckert. Video Watch more on the Web snafu »

"The question is, who would have incentive to cut underwater Internet cables?" That wild speculation, Beckert said, "just doesn't make a lot of sense."

Theories that the U.S. government was behind the cable cuts to create an information blackout for whatever reason are ridiculous, Beckert said.

"The U.S. military uses those cables," he said, "they would find it quite inconvenient," although Beckert added that the military also uses satellites to run communication traffic as a secondary route.

Another target of the Internet sabotage speculation is Islamic terrorists. "It was a six-ton anchor that took out that cable in the Persian Gulf. Unless al Qaeda has extremely strong frogmen or submarines, I'm not sure how they did it," laughed Beckert.

Scores of cut undersea cables are reported each year, Beckert said, acknowledging that three cables leading into the volatile Middle East would attract more attention.

A fourth cable, known as the Qatar-UAE Submarine Cable System, which links United Arab Emirates to Qatar went down last weekend, but that failure was blamed on a power outage, Beckert said. Like most cable outages, the incident went largely unnoticed by end users because Internet traffic can easily be re-routed through other cables, he said. See map of undersea Internet cables »

As the world's fleet of 28 multimillion-dollar cable repair ships works to maintain the crisscrossing communications spider web, Beckert said more capacity is needed in the Persian Gulf to satisfy increasing numbers of Internet users.

Some undersea Internet cables can cost $500 million to lay, Beckert said, although the expense is shrinking. It still takes a lot of time to stretch communication lines thousands of miles across entire oceans.

Following last week's outages, Internet Service Providers in India were alerting customers to service slowdowns of 50 percent to 60 percent, according to the Internet Services Providers Association of India. Service was back to normal by this week.

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Although last week's problem created a "big pain" for many of carriers, Beckert said, it didn't compare to the several months of disruption in East Asia in 2006 after an earthquake damaged seven undersea cables near Taiwan.

TeleGeography analysts said a similar Internet problem could not happen in the United States because most traffic between the United States, Canada and Mexico is carried over land, and there is a plentiful supply of undersea cables carrying traffic under the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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