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Fibre Fault: could it be a deception?

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Slow connectivity on the purported backup connections and little international concern speaks volume.

May 6, 2010 – Hardly a year after its installation, faults have started to emerge on the much-celebrated undersea connection: literally. A few weeks ago, internet users in the region were experiencing connectivity problems following a break shunt fault on the Seacom cable system.

A senior technician from one of the leading ISPs said that Seacom had to “power down the cable system” to repair the fault. Though no one has established the cause of the fault, he cites earth movements or marine animals as the likely cause.

“The environment and wildlife regulations hinder provision of sophisticated fibre protection,” he adds.

Even as the ISPs moved fast to assure their subscribers smooth connectivity through backup connections, reports on the ground paint a grim picture. A number of users surveyed revealed slow or lack of connectivity. Complaints stemmed from subscribers to different ISPs. “I’ve given up surfing till that fibre thing comes back,” said a frustrated user.

This reveals some holes within the data connectivity domain. ISPs are quoting The East African Marine System (TEAMS) as the backup connection. TEAMS was a Government initiated project to connect Kenya to the world through a fast undersea fibre system. Therefore, it is expected to rise to the occasion and provide similar quality of service like the primary Seacom connection. Besides that is what backups do. However, user experience is still poor. fibre_optics_431073425.jpg

A proper understanding prompts the following questions: does the TEAMS system exist? Does it have enough capacity to sustain the internet consumer market? The quality of the system also becomes a subject of concern.

Why was “the world silent when we died”? There is little evidence of international mainstream media reporting the fault. A Google search for ‘Seacom fibre fault’ or ‘break shunt fault’ and many other combinations led to some nondescript websites that shed little light on this matter.

Why should the fault precipitate international debate? Location, location and location. The technician points out that the fault has occurred along Mediterranean Sea close to Alexandria harbour. He adds that this connection has been in existence and used by a number of countries in Europe and Asia for the last four years. This implies that East Africa is not the only region affected. Wouldn’t such issues make bigger headlines than the Muslim ban of DSTV in public places covered widely on the internet?

Perhaps, it’s the onus of the ISP to provide convincing answers to these queries. While they continue to remain silent, the public continue to wonder whether fibre was a deception or if it was shoddily implemented. While they find comfort in few satisfied customers, consumers continue to worry that good internet connectivity remains a privilege of the mighty.

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