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article imageWest Africa Suffers Internet Blackout

By Chris Dade     Jul 30, 2009 in Internet
Large parts of West Africa are still unable to access the Internet today as efforts continue to identify and rectify the damage caused to the SAT-3 undersea fibre optic cable.
The cable, which runs from Spain and Portugal to South Africa and is 15,000 km (9,300 mile) long, is at present the only one serving West Africa. Countries such as Benin, Togo, Niger and Nigeria are among those principally affected.
One of SAT-3's shareholders, Telkom South Africa, has confirmed that the fault lies within the Benin branch of the cable but did not disclose exactly what the fault may be.
Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, accesses some 70% of its bandwidth through Benin and the BBC reports that many of the country's banks, its mobile phone networks and its government systems have been severely disrupted by the loss of Internet access.
There is actually a branch cable running through Nigeria itself but that is managed by Nitel, the main telecoms operator in the country. Presumably in order to avoid having to deal with Nitel, the country's largest bandwidth provider Suburban Telecoms has opted to utilize the Benin branch of the cable instead.
Benin has circumvented the problem by rerouting its Net traffic through neighboring countries. Yet Nigeria could face disruption for up to 14 days.
Ladi Okuneye, chief marketing officer of Suburban Telecoms, explained that there is considerable paperwork to be completed before a ship can be dispatched to investigate the cable fault and rerouting through its neighbors, as Benin has done, may not be practical because of the much larger bandwidth that Nigeria requires.
What does make the problem with the SAT-3 cable especially intriguing is that, as reported earlier in the week by the Business Day website, Nigerians were already facing Internet disruption, irrespective of any cable fault.
According to Business Day the state-owned Nitel, who they describe as the "sole custodian and commercial operator" of the SAT-3 facility in Nigeria, had failed to renew a maintenance contract with the SAT-3 consortium and so Nigeria found itself cut off from the network.
Whoever or whatever may be to blame will doubtless be revealed in time. Meanwhile, in various parts of West Africa, there must be an awful lot of frustrated organizations and individuals.
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