Burma’s Internet users should expect delays in establishing connections for a period of about one month, after a disruption occurred with the SEA-ME-WE 3 underwater fiber cable that links the country with international cable networks, Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) announced on Wednesday.
“Works are being carried out to repair the fault as quick as possible in coordination with a Singapore-based underwater repair and maintenance team. It is expected to take about one month,” the state-owned company said in a brief announcement in government newspaper The New Light of Myanmar.
“The public are informed of Internet connection delay while repair works are in progress,” MPT said, adding that Burma is currently linked with international networks through overland cross-border connections.
MPT said that the problem began on Sunday when a “fault happened” to the SEA-ME-WE 3 underwater fiber cable at a site located 13 kilometers south off the Irrawaddy Delta’s shore. The cable connects Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Western Europe.
Complaints about slow Internet connections have been increasing among Burmese-language Facebook users in recent days. In Rangoon and other parts of the country, many Internet users have been experiencing poor connections for days.
“This is not something that has happened once or twice — this has happened many times,” complained a Facebook user called Saw Lynn Aung.
Nay Phone Latt, a well-known Burmese blogger who founded an information and communications technology training organization, said Burma’s poor Internet infrastructure leads to recurrent connectivity problems that are never fully explained to the public.
“Whenever there is a problem with the Internet in Burma, they give an explanation that no one can understand,” he said.
“To solve these Internet problems we need to develop good infrastructure in our country,” Nay Phone Latt said, adding that he hoped that investment by foreign telecom firms would improve Internet connectivity in Burma.
“Now, we pay a lot of money [to use the Internet] but still we have a lot of problems,” he said.
MPT officials could not be reached for comment on the Internet disruption.
Zaw Min Oo, chief engineer of the Ministry of Communication’s Post and Telegraphs department, said he could not comment on the connectivity problems, but he added that the government plans to expand Internet bandwidth from 3.1 Gbps (gigabit per second) to 5.7 Gbps in the near future.
Currently, there are an estimated 700,000 to 800,000 Internet users in Burma, according to Nay Phone Latt. In 2010, there were about 400,000 Internet users, according to government estimates. The current Internet penetration of about 1.25 percent of the population is very low compared to many other Asian countries.
Burma’s Internet infrastructure has been slow to develop under the previous military regime and was heavily restricted through government censorship measures. International sanctions prevented foreign telecom firms from investing in the development of Internet infrastructure.
Currently, several international telecom firms are bidding to set up mobile Internet networks in Burma and winners of the government tender are expected to be announced soon.
Burmese businesses said the current Internet connectivity problems formed an immediate obstacle to their operations and could hinder long-term economic growth and investment.
“Online banking systems will experience minor problems because of the slow Internet, but it will have an impact on those businesses mainly involved in foreign investment and trade,” said Than Lwin, the deputy chairman of Burma’s largest commercial bank Kan Baw Za Bank, who is also an advisor to the Ministry of Finance.
Aung Thura, of the consultancy firm Thura Swiss, said the government should not rely on the underwater fiber cable alone, but expand international connections by linking up with networks in China and Thailand.
“It’s very obvious now that Burma does not have a secure Internet infrastructure. And this could affect foreign investment while the country works towards modern development,” he said, adding that Burma’s poor Internet infrastructure could hinder long-term foreign trade prospects.
Tourist businesses, which are dealing with a rising number of foreign visitors, said they struggled to carry out operations due to the current Internet disruption.
“We have to use oversea phone calls now because the Internet is too slow. This is going to cost a lot of money for us,” said a staff member at Bravo Travel & Tour Company based in Rangoon.
Rangoon-based media group 7 Day News said their news gathering operations suffered from the poor Internet connection.
Aung Thu Ra, chief reporter in charge of 7 Days’ newsroom, said journalists were unable to download photos and documents that were sent to them via email. “We got two event invitations yesterday, but we could not open the attached file,” he said.