Photo of a building collapse during 3 April 2024 earthquake in Taiwan.

Limited Internet Outage in Taiwan Highlights the Importance of Resilient Internet Infrastructure

Picture of Ryan Polk
Director, Internet Policy
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April 3, 2024

On 3 April 2024, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit the eastern coast of Taiwan, causing significant damage to the region and a limited Internet outage that appears to have been resolved quickly.

As seen in the aftermath of other natural disasters, Internet access is vital to help first responders and citizens provide aid to those in need and to reassure loved ones that they are safe. A resilient Internet infrastructure, alongside where the earthquake’s epicenter was located, seems to have enabled Taiwan’s Internet to weather the earthquake exceptionally well.

Undersea Cables and Natural Disasters

Natural disasters and undersea cables famously do not mix. In 2006, an earthquake off the southern coast of Taiwan caused damage to several undersea cables, which caused sluggish Internet speeds across Asia. More recently, a suspected undersea landslide cut Internet cables off the coast of Africa, disrupting Internet access for a large section of the continent.

While the recent earthquake in Taiwan was a higher magnitude than the one that impacted communications in 2006, it struck in the eastern region (Figure 1), where submarine cables are mainly absent (Figure 2).

A map of the island of Taiwan showing where the earthquake epicenter was
Figure 1 — Taiwan was hit by the biggest earthquake in 25 years. Source: BBC News. 3 April 2024
A diagram showing where undersea cables connect to the island of Taiwan
Figure 2 — Taiwan’s undersea cables. Source: Telegeography

As Taiwan’s undersea cables appear unaffected by the earthquake, the damage to the Internet infrastructure and its impact seems to be solely in Taiwan, rather than affecting the wider region or global Internet. Additionally, by maintaining several landing points and different submarine cables geographically dispersed around the island, Taiwan has given itself a greater degree of resilience against localized disasters. However, had the earthquake’s epicenter hit off the northern coast rather than its eastern coast, the impact on the Internet infrastructure would likely have been much higher.

Taiwan’s Internet Resilience

being located in an earthquake and typhoon-prone region, Taiwan’s stakeholders have had to build its Internet infrastructure with disruptions in mind. As an article by Total Telecom noted, “crisis response and creating resiliency in the country’s communications infrastructure has been a core focus for the telcos – and, indeed, the government.” Today’s limited Internet outage and its quick alleviation show that this focus is paying off.

Alongside many undersea cables with landing stations spread out geographically across the island, Taiwan has eight Internet Exchange Points (IXPs). IXPs mitigate the impact of Internet outages by transit providers by providing a mechanism for Internet networks to exchange traffic locally. In disaster situations, like in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake in 2022, enabling local traffic through an IXP can be critical for helping first responders and survivors.

The slight Internet outage seems to have primarily affected mobile operators and the last mile of communications, not transit providers. Taiwan’s National Communications Commission (NCC) noted that 172 base stations were knocked offline. These were primarily from the loss of power and localized to the most heavily impacted regions.

Assessing Internet Resilience in Pulse

The resilience of Taiwan’s Internet in the aftermath of a major earthquake is an important reminder of the need to continually maintain and improve Internet infrastructure worldwide. Keeping the impact of a natural disaster as localized as possible is an important achievement. Unlike in 2006, the digital shockwaves of today’s earthquake were barely felt across the region.

For policymakers and others interested in their own country’s Internet Resilience, Pulse’s Internet Resilience Index and Country Reports can be useful for identifying areas for improvement.

Photo Imgur