Sri Lankan Internet services restored after cable cut

All Internet services in Sri Lanka were restored Thursday after damage earlier this week to a digital fiber optic submarine cable cut off most of the island country from the global Internet.

The SEA-ME-WE 3 (South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe) cable of Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT), the largest telecom and Internet services provider in the country, was damaged early Sunday, allegedly by an Indian vessel that dropped anchor in a prohibited part off the Sri Lankan coast.

Set up by a consortium of telecommunications service providers, SEA-ME-WE 3 connects Northern Europe to East Asia and Australia, spanning approximately 39,000 kilometers (24,233 miles). It was set up as a follow-on high-capacity cable to the earlier SEA-ME-WE 2 submarine cable system. SLT's connectivity to the SEA-ME-WE 3 is through a landing point off Mount Lavinia on the coast of Sri Lanka.

"The restoration of the cable is in progress, but services have been restored using our SEA-ME-WE 2 cable link and satellite connectivity," said Kapila Sri Chandrasena, chief marketing officer of SLT in Colombo. Besides a SEA-ME-WE 2 link, which it set up in 1994, and the SEA-ME-WE 3 link set up in 1999, SLT has three digital satellite earth stations.

"We are currently getting sufficient bandwidth for both our Internet and telephony services," said Chandrasena, adding that with the SEA-ME-WE 3, SLT in fact has excess bandwidth.

Soon after the cable was damaged, telephony was restored early Sunday morning using the SEA-ME-WE 2 link, while International Private Leased Circuits were restored soon after, according to Chandrasena. E-mail services were restored by Monday, while all other Internet services including broadband were working normally again by 1 a.m. local time Thursday.

Internet, international dialing and data services of 800,000 subscribers were affected in Sri Lanka, according to SLT, although some private operators, who have their own international gateways to the Internet, were able to offer service.

SLT has claimed $5 million in damages from the shipping company that owns the Indian vessel, M.V. State of Nagaland, and a district court in Colombo ordered the ship detained until a Sept. 6 hearing of the case. However, according to a report from Colombo of the Press Trust of India (PTI), a Delhi-based news agency, the ship was released Thursday by the Sri Lankan navy as there was no evidence linking the ship to the cable damage. Other reports have it that SLT had withdrawn its case. Chandrasena declined to comment on these reports.

It is not clear yet when SLT will be able to restore the damaged cable. SLT sent a cable repair ship to the site of the damage on Tuesday to do physical repairs. "The testing and rectification of the fault became more complicated since the restoration operation has to be carried out without interrupting other (international Internet) traffic," SLT said in a statement earlier this week.

SLT is majority owned by the government of Sri Lanka, which holds 49.5% of the company's equity. NTT Communications in Tokyo owns 35.2% of the equity, and the remaining 15.3% is publicly held.

After the damage to the SEA-ME-WE 3 cable, SLT is beefing up its routing options in both fiber optical undersea cable and satellite media, which will both increase the available bandwidth, and provide more backup alternatives in case of similar mishaps, according to a statement Thursday from the company. SLT will now have direct connectivity to Singapore, Germany and India, apart from its direct routes to the U.S. and Japan, the statement said.

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