High-speed internet services to The Gambia has been disrupted after the submarine fiber optic cable suffered damages near the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott.
Mauritania was left offline for 48 hours after the submarine cable was severed, according to infrastructure analysts. Nine other West African nations were affected by outages.
The cable system stretches 10,500 miles (17,000 kilometers) from France to South Africa, helping to provide internet connection to 22 countries – mostly on Africa’s West coast.
“While it may not have been completely problem-free over the last 5+ years, online searches do not return any published reports of significant outages caused by damage to the cable, said David Belson, senior director of internet research and analysis at Dyn.
“The differences in duration and severity may be related to the other international internet connections, via terrestrial cable or satellite, that the providers in these countries have in place, resulting in varying levels of reliance on the ACE cable system.”
Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, and the Gambia also experienced significant disruption, while Benin, Senegal, Equatorial Guinea and the Ivory Coast all saw less serious problems.
Recent years have seen several incidents involving submarine cable cuts that caused major internet disruption. Ships’ anchors are often the culprits—one managed to take out three cables off the Channel Islands in 2016, while anchor-related breaks caused chaos across the Middle East and India in 2008, and much of East Africa in 2012.
The Gambia has one of the highest fees for internet service and connections are often slow and buffers. Outages like this rarely make the headlines, but it’s a good reminder of exactly how fragile much of the internet’s infrastructure still is — particularly in places like West Africa.
When a major cable gets cut, every other connection has to strain to pick up the slack. When there’s no other infrastructure to rely on, connectivity simply drops out. Lacking investment, the internet becomes less reliable for the entire region.