UPDATE - Internet access recovers in Asia after quake

Asia's Internet and telecommunication infrastructure showed signs of recovery Thursday, following service disruptions caused by a series of powerful earthquakes off Taiwan's southern coast earlier this week.

"It's improving by the hour," said Eric Loh, a spokesman for Starhub Internet Pte. Ltd., which offers cable and wireless Internet services in Singapore.

By 4.15 p.m. local time, Starhub had restored 80 percent of its Internet capacity by rerouting affected traffic to other undersea cables, the company said.

A pair of powerful earthquakes rattled southern Taiwan within eight minutes of each other on Tuesday evening, local time, causing damage to undersea telecommunication cables. Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau (CWB) said the first was a magnitude 6.7 quake, but observers in Japan and the U.S. said the earthquake was more powerful. The U.S. Geographical Survey (USGS) said it was stronger at 7.1 and Japan's Meteorological Agency estimated it at magnitude 6.9.

The CWB said the second quake was slightly smaller, at magnitude 6.4, while USGS estimated the second quake at 7.0 and the Japanese Meteorological Agency estimated it was magnitude 7.2. Two people were killed by the quakes, and dozens wounded, according to press reports.

Repairing the cables will cost about NT$50 million ($1.5 million), Taiwan's Chunghwa Telecom Co. Ltd. said in a statement to the Taiwan Stock Exchange. The operator, which lost much of its international capacity following the quake, lost NT$100 million in revenue due to the quake, the filing said.

Repairing the damaged cables will take two to three weeks, Chunghwa Telecom said.

Chunghwa was able to complete 76 percent of calls to numbers in the U.S. and 64 percent to those in Canada, 57 percent to mainland China, and 73 percent to Japan by 7.28 a.m. U.S. Eastern time on Thursday. However, it could only complete 45 percent of calls to Hong Kong and 30 percent to other destinations in Southeastern Asia, the company said.

The company began rerouting traffic to a standby route after the first quake cut cables on Tuesday, but that route too was disrupted by the second quake, the company said.

The effects of Tuesday's quakes reverberated across Asia. Damage to the undersea cables brought access to international Web sites from Singapore to a near standstill, with local operators Starhub, Singapore Telecommunications Ltd., and MobileOne Ltd. all reporting serious slowdowns on Wednesday due to the quake.

By Thursday, Starhub and others had managed to divert traffic to undamaged cables. "Regional telcos are all scrambling to get whatever unused cables are available," Starhub's Loh said, noting that improving service levels across the region will not return to normal for some time yet.

"There is still some trouble for international calls to Southeast Asia," said Haruhiko Maede, a KDDI Corp. spokesman in Tokyo. "It can be difficult to get connected but we have secured some third party routes so it's getting easier."

Maede said 177 leased lines remained out of action due to the cable failure, down from the 290 lines that were affected on Wednesday.

The disruption also continued to affect financial news services, such as Reuters Group PLC, which was unable to deliver real-time quotes and market data to customers in South Korea and Hong Kong. The company had earlier experienced similar problems getting data to subscribers in Japan and Taiwan.

Internet access remained slow in China on Thursday, with many international Web sites not accessible, according to users in Shanghai and Beijing.

(Martyn Williams, in Tokyo, and Peter Sayer, in Paris, contributed to this story.)

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