Letter to a friend:
“The Achilles’ Heel”


My friend,

I have risen regularly in my correspondence to you, the following question “Are we building the network that is needed?”. In other words, does the existing architecture of the global submarine fiber optic network respond properly to all and every world’s need? Does it serve fairly everyone?  And the one who are, are they served in a secured manner?

When several cables were simultaneously cut in the med near Egypt and in the Bachi straits between the Philippines and Taiwan, I did not perceived a lot of reaction and concern within our community. And this, despite the fact that 70 percent of Egypt connection to the outside internet was lost, 12 million people were knocked offline suddenly in Pakistan, and in India, 50 to 60 percent of online connectivity was lost!!

Are we still in the 60s or 70s where a transatlantic cable cut was not a problem? I perfectly remember the times when a call to New-York from Paris was not a guaranteed deal “Due to a technical reason, please call again to-morrow!!”

But other people are starting to finger point these issues. An article was published on December 21, 2010, titled “Undersea Cables: the Achilles’ Heel of our Economies”, a very provocative title, difficult to swallow for us, so proud to bring such powerful infrastructure to the world community!

The author is a senior analyst from EWI, East-West Institute. This “non-profit” body has been recruited to champion international policy aspects and propose measures to ensure the security of the world’s digital infrastructure.

To highlight the criticality of the submarine cable network the articles says:

“The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a provider of financial messaging, sends about 15 million messages a day over cables. 1 million of these are financial transactions, amounting to over $4.7 trillion dollars a day commuting via the same undersea cables. The finance hub Hong Kong doubles its dependency, i.e. the volume of messages going through these cables, every 18 Months.”

Three cable choke-points have been identified, where undersea cables converge and where if cut, outages could have severe consequences. The first is in the Luzon Strait, the second in the Suez Canal-Red Sea-el Mandeb Strait passage and the third is in the Strait of Malacca.

Another subject is the obvious unfairness of the global infrastructure. If internet access is as vital as water or electricity, why do we accept the fact that several countries and/or remote communities are still unconnected today? Thanks to ACE project 8 more west Africa countries will be finally connected by mid 2012, 25 years after the first transatlantic!

The consequence of all this, is that our community cannot continue to live as if.

I know many people will say: Nothing we can do about it. I am a supplier: I supply what the owner/carrier want. I am a carrier: I build the cable I need in accordance to my business strategy! I am a financier; I invest in a project which shows reasonable   prospects of profit.

My response: This is true, nothing we can do individually

But as a community, don’t we have a responsibility?

Jean Devos

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