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India, Arab Countries Struggle to Regain Internet Access

Internet access in India improved Friday as international service providers shifted their Internet traffic to cables under the Pacific Ocean to bypass two undersea cables damaged earlier this week.

Repairs, however, will take longer.

The two cables deep under the Mediterranean Sea snapped on Wednesday, disrupting service since then across a swath of Asia and the Middle East.

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India took one of the biggest hits, and the damage from its slowdowns and outages rippled to some U.S. and European companies that rely on its lucrative outsourcing industry to handle customer service calls and other operations.

Bandwidth providers in India said they were working to restore service to about 80 percent of its usual speed Friday.

Many companies said their Internet access already had gotten better.

"We've been getting and sending e-mails normally. Compared to yesterday connectivity is certainly improved," said Praveen Mathur of Streit India Advisory Services Pvt. Ltd., an New Delhi-based investment consulting firm with clients in the United States and Canada.

Rajesh Chharia, president of India's Internet Service Provider's Association, said access improved as service providers rerouted traffic across the Pacific.

In Egypt, Internet access remained sporadic or nonexistent Friday, the first day of the official Muslim weekend in the Middle East when all government offices and most businesses are closed.

Egyptian Minister of Communications and Information Technology Tarek Kamil said service would be up to about 80 percent of its usual capacity within 48 hours.

Workers will not know for sure what caused the cuts off the northern coast of Egypt until they are able to get repair ships and divers to the area, though there was speculation a ship's anchor was to blame.

The U.K.-based FLAG Telecom, owner of one of the damaged cables, said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that the ship was to arrive Tuesday in the Mediterranean Sea. It said the repair work will likely be completed in a week of the ship's arrival.

The statement did not say why it would take until Tuesday for the repair ship to arrive at a site so near the port of Alexandria. The harbor has been closed for most of this week because of bad weather.

In a separate statement, FLAG Telecom reported that a third undersea Internet cable, FALCON, had been cut Friday morning about 35 miles from Dubai, on a stretch between the United Arab Emirates and Oman in the Persian Gulf.

There were no other details on the damage — the first to be reported in the Persian Gulf. FALCON also belongs to FLAG Telecom.

The initial two cut cables are FLAG Europe Asia and SEA-ME-WE 4, owned by a consortium of telecommunications companies.

The pair of cables — which lie on the sea floor near each other and at some points are no thicker than the average human thumb — caused problems across an area thousands of miles wide.

India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain all reported trouble.

The Internet disruption has raised questions about the system's vulnerability.

A Gulf analyst called it a "wake-up call," while one in London cautioned that no one, including the West, was immune to such disruptions.

They could have a "massive impact on businesses," said Alex Burmaster from Nielsen Online in London, adding that ordinary people "probably couldn't imagine" life without the Internet.

Such large-scale disruptions are rare but not unknown. East Asia suffered nearly two months of outages and slow service after an earthquake damaged undersea cables near Taiwan in 2006.