Friday, September 14, 2007

Cable Cartels: Don't keep us in the dark

On the weekend I had an email from a friend telling me that if I thought the Net connection was slow, don't worry -- it was slow. Earthquake alley, the narrow cable tray between Taiwan and China otherwise known as the Luzon Straits, had struck again and taken out some of the undersea cables that carry nearly all the international Net traffic in the Asia Pacific region.

My friend knew this because his friend works at the Communications Authority of Thailand (CAT), which thanks to its very slowly disappearing monopoly gets to control all of the country's traffic with the submarine boys. On hearing this I did a bit of a search around the place to see if I could get any further confirmation. Nothing. It was the weekend, but still there were no bloggers, news agencies or government regulator sites with anything about cable cuts.

This week it's been remarkably quiet too. However, there are/were cable cuts: just very little news about it. Which brings me to a gripe a brought up during the last major earthquake-related outage at the start of this year -- don't keep us users in the dark about this stuff.

The thing we users find really frustrating is not so much the dodgy and unreliable connections as the dodgy and unreliable information we’re able to get out of the carrier cartels. The major service providers are kept in the loop, as evidenced by the people at CAT knowing all about the latest break, a lot better than the average business or end user. But given how critical connectivity is to economies, cash flows and everyday life, I think we deserve better than this.

Earlier this year Hong Kong’s regulator, OFTA, said it was planning to bring in a new system of reporting for undersea cable damage, yet when I went looking for it at the weekend I couldn't find such a service. Not surprising when at the time Au Man-ho, director-general of telecommunications, was quoted as saying that it would be unsuitable for operators to report whenever there was submarine cable damage, as such incidents were common.

So I bring it up again, why would it be unsuitable? Surely the more information the better? In fact, there should be a mash-up of the various disruptions whenever they occur overlaid against a map of all the cable systems, so we could see exactly what’s happening. And there should be a more global approach to reporting. After all, just because you get a cable cut in, say, South America doesn’t mean it’s not going to affect a business in Asia. Perhaps a body like the ITU or ICANN or the like could put a submarine cable reporting facility on their to-do list?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, there's a similar call for better network traffic reporting on the BBC today by Bill Thompson.