It’s a Monday afternoon and we’re posted up at a coffee shop putting the final touches to this issue of Word. But our patience has run dry. In the office, despite having a supposed superfast internet connection, we’re stuck waiting for websites and emails to load up. Here, at least, there seems to be some normality.
The cause of our grief, indeed the cause of the grief encountered by millions, goes back to an incident that happened just over a month ago.
In mid-August, the Asian-America Gateway sub-sea cable, running between Ba Ria-Vung Tau in southern Vietnam to Hong Kong, was cut. Either from an anchored vessel or a seabed landslide, we don’t really know. Regardless, with many service providers like FPT, Viettel and VNPT relying on the connection, the results were felt throughout Vietnam. Suddenly everything went slow. And even a month later after repairs, the connection still seems to be intermittent.
This is not the first time we’ve had such an outage. Early March saw a similar severance from which it took the country 20 days to fully recover Internet connection. And then there is the constant change in connection speeds. Sometimes the internet is inexorably slow, sometimes it is lightning fast. There seems to be no regularity.
Bad for Business
That so many oft-heard complaints revolve around the speed of the internet shows just how important this communications avenue has become. Not only does it act as our connection to the bigger, brighter outside world, no matter how digitized or lacking in reality, but it is the mode through which we do business. In recent years the internet has become indispensable.
Let’s take email, for example. A phenomenon of the last 20 years, its existence has destroyed postal services. Fax machines have fallen by the wayside and even the accepted format of writing letters has changed beyond recognition. Now almost all business communications, invitation after invitation, and flier after unwanted flier arrives directly into our mailboxes in digital form with no need for a paper version. With the internet connection getting slow, our ability to answer and send emails reduces drastically. But just imagine if all our email went down. How would we cope? We wouldn’t. A crisis would ensue.
Search engines such as Google are another example. Our avenue to access all things information, imagine if they were hacked and destroyed. Suddenly we would no longer be able to Google everything our heart so desires — the free publicity and advertising given to websites and URLs that makes the World Wide Web accessible would disappear. It would be like being back in the dark ages again, the time when we were told that there was all this amazing information available online, but we just didn’t know how to find it.
It may all sound like a storyline out of a 007 or Austin Powers movie, but having seen the disruption caused by just one cable being cut in the East Sea, this should be a very real concern. Were we to truly lose our access to the internet or even just parts of it, we would suffer.
That this has happened before, if not in a slightly different form, should be a warning. In 1998 the central area of New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, suffered a five-week-long power outage due to the failure of two key electricity cables. Essential to the daily activities of businesses in the Queen Street area of the city, without power the businesses stopped operating and there was chaos. People took to the streets, tempers rose. The outage cost millions.
Imagine if the same thing happened today. It just doesn’t bear thinking about.