Wreck of undersea cables shows the backhoe isn't the only natural enemy of the Internet

Ships with dragging anchors may have killed the Internet for East Africa, Middle East

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The Internet is a miracle of technology, information, interpersonal communications and logistics. Underneath all the wonder and money and freedom and intrusion what the Internet really is becomes a hard reality. Not cyberspace or the cloud or virtual worlds or anything else gassy and imaginative.

Underneath all the other imagery, the Internet is a tangle of cables emerging from the back of a server chassis in the IT department at your office, squirming into the wall, out to the street and around the world.

The Internet, more than anything else, is a cable stretching, with some interruptions, from your computer all the way around the planet and back to your computer.

Making that trip is more complex and dangerous than you'd think, though. For a good part of its run, the Internet lies not in cyberspace, but at the bottom of the ocean, lived on and listened to by things that have evolved without eyes but can feel the minute electrical charges firing the muscles of its prey from tens of yards away.

On land the greatest natural enemy of the Internet is the backhoe, which digs up and breaks fiber and copper wires with appalling frequency and frustrating ease.

Under the ocean the Internet has no natural enemies, or shouldn't.

Though it stays safe all through the permanent darkness of the deepest, coldest water, the armored, waterproof wrap protecting the Internet begins to look vulnerable again as it approaches the surface, where things more frightening than monstrous squid, albino crawlies and giant-toothed horrors never go.

There, in the shallows, even in waters where it should be under protection, the Internet is vulnerable – to heavy trash thrown overboard or ships or barges running too deep.

Among the greatest dangers, it turns out, anchors being dropped in the wrong place and dragged along the bottom where they can snag strand after strand of cable, cutting off the Internet to whole countries, whole chunks of continent before the anchors are stopped.

That's what happened Saturday off the coast of Kenya on the East Coast of Africa, just south of Somalia, where a ship near the port of Mombasa dropped anchor in a restricted area, then dragged that anchor across the East African Marine Systems (TEAMS) high-capacity fiberoptic cable, which was already doing double-duty, carrying traffic rerouted from breaks in three other major cables.

Photo Credit: 

SubmarineCableMap.com

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