Saturday’s earthquake in Nepal, which claimed the lives of at least 4,000 victims and injured many more, took a toll on the country’s Internet connectivity, which was already one of the least developed in the region. A recent evaluation of Internet infrastructure in South Asia commissioned by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) classified Nepal’s international connectivity as ‘weak’ and its fixed and mobile infrastructure as ‘limited’.
While the loss of Internet connectivity pales in comparison to the loss of life, the ability to communicate both domestically and internationally will be crucial in coming days for the coordination of relief efforts already underway. Innovative services from Facebook and Google to facilitate communicating the status of those affected by the massive earthquake would be largely useless if Nepal had been knocked entirely offline. In fact, Nepal’s international links generally survived the earthquake, however last mile connectivity is another matter.
As we reported on Saturday, we began seeing severe Internet outages and instabilities immediately following the earthquake at 6:11 UTC. On the left is a timeline of outages through today and on the right is the volume of DNS queries coming out of Nepal over the past ten days.
While the number of networks that went down was significant, it certainly wasn’t a total outage. However, simply counting routed networks doesn’t convey the actual Internet impairment in Nepal due to the fact that much of the damage in this incident was at the access layer or last mile. In fact, many of the providers with international access (through India) for the most part maintained their links to the outside, including Nepal Telecom pictured below. However, the ability of the average person in Nepal to connect to that service depends on the state of the infrastructure in their immediate area. With downed mobile towers, severed overhead fiber cables and spotty electricity, connecting to the outside world will be challenging for weeks to come as the nation recovers from the devastation.
Link to China
Nepal, as well as Bhutan, are both South Asian landlocked countries wedged between India and China that are dependent on India for a number of services including telecommunications. As a result, each country has been courting Chinese engagement that would provide a redundant source of Internet connectivity. Nepal has been seeking Internet connectivity through China for some time, however, as of today, we have yet to observe any Internet paths linking Nepal to the global Internet via China.
As stated above, Nepal’s international Internet links through India have so far stayed up through the earthquake and its aftermath. The degradation of Internet services in Nepal was primarily due to significant damage in the last mile of infrastructure. Had the international links to India gone down as well, then establishing redundant links to China would undoubtedly be at the forefront of present discussions about the resiliency of the Nepali Internet – not to mention stoking the rivalry between India and China for influence in Nepal. In this case, international connectivity matters little if people can’t connect to their local service provider.
A regional Asian Internet grid
Abu Saeed Khan of LIRNEasia was in Nepal just a few weeks ago presenting on the status of international connectivity in Nepal and proposing the adoption of an Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway — an Asian network that would achieve greater regional Internet resiliency by “exploiting every right-of-way for national and cross-border optical fiber cable (OFC) networks.” It’s time to take proposals like these more seriously to really improve Internet connectivity in places like Nepal.
Media coverage below:
— CIO.com (@CIOonline) April 27, 2015
— CSOonline (@CSOonline) April 29, 2015
— BetaBoston (@BetaBoston) April 28, 2015
Nepal Internet Connectivity Crucial for Coordination of Relief Efforts http://t.co/7clxwYIyM9
— CircleID (@circleid) April 28, 2015
Nepal Internet Recovering, but Long Road Ahead – Voice of America (blog): Voice of America (blog)Nepal Interne… http://t.co/RgXb0Cf5r6
— nepalmonitor (@nepalmonitor) May 1, 2015