(Adds Indian firms’ comments on outage, suspected cause)
By Jonathan Wright
CAIRO, Dec 20 (Reuters) - Breaks in submarine cables which link Europe and the Middle East disrupted Internet and international telephone services in parts of the Middle East and South Asia, officials said on Saturday.
The disruption reduced Egypt’s Internet capacity by about 80 percent and technicians were restoring some capacity by diverting communications traffic through the Red Sea, said a Communications Ministry official who asked not to be named.
Egypt’s state news agency MENA quoted the National Telecom Regulatory Authority as saying it expected Internet services to improve gradually to between 50 and 60 percent of full capacity.
India’s Bharti Airtel (BRTI.BO) said a fibre had been cut on the SEA-ME-WE 4 and other major submarine cables near Palermo in Italy, affecting the overall traffic between India and Europe.
A Tata Communications (TATA.BO) spokesman blamed the problems, which began late on Friday, on seismic activity in the Mediterranean.
MENA quoted an unnamed official as saying that the Italian authorities had confirmed that five cables had been cut, though there was no immediate confirmation from the Rome authorities.
In January, breaks in undersea cables off the Egyptian coast disrupted Internet access in Egypt, the Gulf region and south Asia, forcing service providers to reroute traffic and disrupting some businesses and financial dealings.
Pakistan Internet service provider Micronet Broadband said its customers faced degraded Internet services because of issues on the SMW-3, SMW-4 and FLAG lines.
Etislat, the largest of two telecom firms in the United Arab Emirates, said it was using alternative routes to ensure continuity of service.
Users in the Gulf Arab nation said their connections were much slower than usual and suffered occasional disconnections.
Kuwait’s Telecommunications Ministry said late on Friday it was trying to secure continued services until the damage to the cables was repaired and asked for users’ understanding.
Several Egyptian residents said late on Friday it was impossible to call the United States but calls to Europe appeared to be going through.
The International Cable Protection Committee, an association of submarine cable operators, said on its website it was aware of multiple submarine cable failures affecting Internet speeds on some routes but did not know what had caused the problem.
Officials with AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications, the two largest U.S.-based carriers, said some customers in the Middle East had lost all service, while others were experiencing partial disruptions on Internet connections.
Verizon had rerouted some of its traffic by sending it across the Atlantic, then the United States, across the Pacific, and on to the Middle East. (Additional reporting by Jim Finkle in Boston, Juan Lagorio and Elinor Comlay in New York, Robert Birsel in Islamabad, Inal Ersan in Dubai; Editing by Jon Boyle)