A broken submarine cable knocked Mauritania off the internet for two days

On March 30, the ACE submarine cable was disconnected and dropped connectivity in much of West Africa. According to reports, the breach occurred along the coast of Mauritania, which caused a significant drop in the connectivity of at least ten neighboring countries. Mauritania was offline for almost 48 hours before the connectivity was partially restored. Other countries had enough cable and satellite land connections to route the downed cable, but still experienced significant interruptions in Internet access during most of the weekend.

Interruptions of this type rarely appear in the headlines, but it is a good reminder of how exactly most of the Internet infrastructure is still fragile, especially in places like West Africa. When a main cable is cut, all other connections must be tensioned to reduce the slack. When there is no other infrastructure to rely on, connectivity simply disappears. Lacking investment, the Internet becomes less reliable for the entire region.

This is the problem that projects like Alphabet's balloons and Facebook solar drones are trying to solve, at least in theory. But in practical terms, all that is really needed is more cables and landing points, the kind of thing that Nigeria has, but not Mauritania. And after years of instant development, we still do not have many options when cutting a cable.