Public agencies off Internet as undersea cable is repaired

Workers and passport applicants outside Nyayo House last year. The building houses the headquarters of the Immigration ministry, which was one of the public institutions affected by disruption of Internet services Monday. AFP
Workers and passport applicants outside Nyayo House last year. The building houses the headquarters of the Immigration ministry, which was one of the public institutions affected by disruption of Internet services Monday. AFP 

State agencies have experienced erratic Internet linkage since Thursday as repairs on an undersea cable left their websites inaccessible and employees off the world-wide web.

The East African Marine System (TEAMs), which supplies the bulk of international data links to Kenya, will remain offline until Tuesday as it undergoes maintenance expected to last eight weeks.

This has affected crucial State sites such as Immigration, Finance, and Education ministries as well as Parliament, which were offline until 3pm Monday.

This outage meant that public services such as downloading of online passport and birth certificate application forms were grounded.

Kenyans could also not access general information from the websites while IT administrators at the affected agencies could not upload new content.

“The cable repair has left us with serious Internet issues since Friday,” said Eric Isuza, an IT specialist at the Energy ministry.

“While the issue is being addressed, workers cannot currently access their emails, surf or even upload content to the website.” The Business Daily contacted other employees at several other ministries who confirmed that the outage had nearly grounded office operations.

However, websites like those of the Kenya Revenue Authority and Vision 2030 were still running.

While the TEAMs management had warned of slow Internet and advised on the need to route Internet traffic to other providers, the government seemed to have been caught flat-footed.

Firms connected to TEAMs were last week advised to use alternative routes like the other three undersea cables — Seacom, EASSy and LION2 — or reroute data traffic to satellites.

Information and Communications permanent secretary Bitange Ndemo nearly a decade ago insisted on investing in TEAMs against opposition from the private sector, which claimed that there would be duplication. Outages on the cables and huge demand, however, have come to justify the multiple investments.

“Only the first two weeks will have the heaviest impact on traffic with complete downtime (on 3-15 January),” said TEAMS general manager Joel Tanui while announcing the start of the maintenance.

“During this time of complete system downtime, customers are likely to experience slow Internet speeds because of bandwidth constraints as a result of limited traffic restoration via other cables.”

Safaricom, Jamii Telecom, Wananchi Group and Essar Kenya are other service providers use TEAMs to terminate connections to their clients.

TEAMs also supplies Kenya Data Networks, Access Kenya, Telkom Orange besides offering bandwidth and cloud services. Some of the firms directed their traffic to other cables.

“We have currently redirected the emergency capacity to both Seacom and EASSy, ensuring that we remain online and customers are not inconvenienced,” said Jonathan Somen, AccessKenya’s managing director.

Jamii Telecoms Ltd (JTL) also said it had made arrangements with other undersea cable providers since satellite cannot offer guaranteed speeds.

Accessing backup capacity on the undersea cables is an expensive undertaking costing between Sh2.4 million and Sh3.2 million a month. It costs Sh23 million for the same capacity a month through satellite service providers.

Monday, the internet problem was spread across all ministries since they were all connected to the Government Common Core Network (GCCN) also fed by TEAMs.

The network, completed in 2009 by Telkom Kenya, links government ministries and was to help in a paperless framework aimed at increasing public access to official information.

A Finance Ministry official said the Internet outage was being felt by all ministries because the backup bandwidth capacity coming through GCCN was inadequate.

“All ministries are competing for the limited connectivity coming through and this is why Internet access is fluctuating,” said the employee who requested not to be quoted.

This is not the first time TEAMs cable is experiencing interruption. In March last year, a ship cut the cable while dropping anchor at the port of Mombasa forcing telecommunications service providers to look for alternative routes to connect their clients.

The inland infrastructure has also experienced numerous cuts by vandals and during construction works, affecting businesses that depend on fibre optic for their operations.