A fire that left most of Azerbaijan offline on November 16 appears to speak to the insecurity of the Internet supply in the South Caucasus, where nationwide Internet dim-outs are nothing new.
Early on Monday, a cable caught fire in a ganglion of lines belonging to Delta Telecom, Azerbaijan’s all-but-monopoly Internet supplier. The blaze eventually affected roughly 90 percent of the country’s networks, according to internet connectivity tracker Renesys.
Careful in its wording, the communications ministry termed the problem “a partial breakdown” in equipment, caused by a melting cable and smoke.
The incident lead to a roughly seven-hour-long Internet outage and brought down many locally hosted websites. As Azerbaijan’s main gateway to the Internet, Delta Telecom sells international traffic to nearly all internet service providers. The company also hosts on its servers several government websites.
Azerbaijani officials stressed that mission-critical operations — banking and the country’s bread-and-butter, oil-and-gas extraction – were not affected. The Internet connection was mostly restored late on the same day, but the outage left Internet users, both corporate and individual, in a huff.
“The government should take immediate measures to prevent such incidents from happening again and also to make the field more competitive and make alternative infrastructure available,” advised the Azerbaijan Internet Forum, a non-governmental coalition.
What measures Delta Telecom will take to prevent such an outage from happening again have not yet been widely shared, but, given its ties to the government, the company, no doubt, has been hearing from officialdom. Its general director for the past 15 years, Ramazan Veliyev, is a former official in the Azerbaijani interior-ministry’s telecommunications department. The remaining ten percent of Azerbaijan’s networks is run by the state-controlled AzTelekom.
In 2011, a blow from a spade destroyed a major fiber-optics cable in neighboring Georgia, and took Azerbaijan’s western neighbor, Armenia, offline.
Seventy-five-year-old Hayastan Shakarian was scavenging for scrap metal when she dug down to the international fiber-optics highway near the Armenian border. When Shakarian realized that the cable she cut through did not have the copper she wanted, she duck-taped it back.
At the time, some joked that Hayastan (Armenia) had cut the Internet to Hayastan (Armenia).