Asian Communications Are Disrupted After Quakes Off Taiwan

Telecommunications around Asia were severely disrupted Wednesday after earthquakes off Taiwan damaged undersea cables, slowing Internet services, clogging up telephone circuits and hindering financial transactions, particularly in the currency market.

Banks and businesses across the region reported problems with communications, with some telephone lines cut and Internet access slowing to a crawl.

South Korea's top fixed-line and broadband service provider, KT Corp, said in a statement that six submarine cables were knocked out by Tuesday night's earthquakes. "Twenty-seven of our customers were hit, including banks and churches," a KT spokesman said. "It is not known yet when we can fully restore the services."

Banks in Seoul said foreign exchange trading had been affected. "Trading of the Korean won has mostly halted due to the communication problem," said a dealer at one domestic bank.

Some disruption was also reported in the important Tokyo currency market but the EBS system that handles much dollar/yen trading appeared to be working.

Global information company Reuters said all users of its services in Japan and South Korea had been affected. One Tokyo foreign exchange trader said: "There are many currencies in which
market-making is being conducted via Reuters and such currencies such as the Australian dollar and the British pound are in a very tenuous situation now."

Repairing the cables harmed by Tuesday's 6.7-magnitude quake could take up to three weeks but communications "quality will improve day by day," said Lin Jen-hung, vice general manager of Chunghwa Telecom, Taiwan's largest phone company.

The company said damage to a cable off Taiwan's southern coast has interrupted 98% of Taiwan's communications capacity with Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong.

The damaged lines knocked out Internet service for some Hong Kong customers, who were unable to access Web sites in parts of Asia and the U.S. Hong Kong telephone company PCCW, which also provides Internet service, said several undersea data cables were damaged in the quake. "Data transfer is down by half," a spokeswoman said. The company also warned customers that they may experience congestion for several days on the Internet because of an upsurge in use as people surf the Web for more information about the quake.

Financial traders in Hong Kong -- one of Asia's biggest business capitals -- complained they lost their connection to Bloomberg, a key provider of news and data about stock markets. Bloomberg declined to immediately comment on the outage.

Both Singtel, Southeast Asia's top phone company, and local rival StarHub, said customers were suffering slow access to Internet pages. But SingTel said traffic was being diverted and repair work was in progress, adding: "Our submarine cables linking to Europe and the U.S. are not affected."

Internet access has been cut or has become extremely slow in Beijing, said an official from China Netcom, China's No. 2 phone company. The official, who would not give his name, said the cause was thought to be the earthquake, but he had not further details.

Businesses in various parts of the city also said they were experiencing Internet access problems. CCTV, the state-run television network, said the earthquake had damaged undersea communications cables from China to the U.S. and from Asia to Europe.

It said China Telecom, China's biggest phone company, was contacting counterparts in the United States and Europe about using satellites to make up for the shortfall.

KDDI Corp., Japan's major carrier for international calls, said Thursday that its fixed-line telephone service has been intermittently affected following the quake. KDDI spokesman Haruhiko Maeda said that the quake damaged several undersea communication cables in southern Taiwan shared among international communication companies.

He said that customers are having trouble making calls to India and the Middle East, which are usually routed through cables near Taiwan. Maeda said the company is rerouting calls to go through the U.S. and Europe and the company does not know how long it will take to repair the cables.

Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said that international roaming service provided by Japan's major three telecommunications -- NTT DoCoMO, KDDI, and Softbank, has been affected. Ministry official Akira Yamanaka said that some customers were unable to make calls using their mobile phones in countries including Taiwan.

The quake, which hit offshore from the town of Hengchun near Taiwan's southern tip, came on the second anniversary of the tsunami that killed more than 200,000 lives in southern Asia. The temblor was felt throughout Taiwan. It shook buildings and knocked objects off the shelves in the capital, Taipei. Two people were killed and another 42 injured.

Quakes frequently shake Taiwan, which is part of the Pacific's "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin. Most are minor and cause little or no damage. However, a 7.6-magnitude earthquake in central Taiwan in September 1999 killed more than 2,300 people.