Cable Break Sends China Back to Pre-Internet Age

On Tuesday, an earthquake off the coast of Taiwan damaged undersea fiber optic cables, causing widespread Internet and phone outages. Lack of access to the Web has forced people in China to contemplate what life was like before global connectivity.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

At least eight ships are heading toward Taiwan Strait to try to reconnect underwater cables severed by an earthquake. The damaged cables have cut off from the rest of the world Internet users in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, including NPR's Louisa Lim.

LOUISA LIM: When I get up, the first thing I normally do is check my e-mail. Yesterday, when it didn't work, I immediately imagined the worst. Maybe it's a new Internet policy cutting China off from the rest of the world, I thought. Paranoid perhaps, but there were reasons for my paranoia.

A couple of weeks ago, NPR's Web pages were inexplicably blocked in China. And here high-handed government policies are a fact of life. Then I heard about the earthquake, which has effectively time warped us back to those unimaginable days of life before the Internet.

Ninety-seven percent of China's Internet users are effected. We can still access Web sites based in China or Hong Kong, but that's about it. No e-mail, no eBaying, no Google, no YouTube, no Skype, no Wikipedia. Oh wait, we didn't have that anyway as it was banned a while back.

Those who do business overseas are worst hit. Many are unable to work at all despite looming end-of-year accounts making it the busiest time of the year. Students who want to go to school in the U.S. are panicking. The final application date is January 1st and they can't submit their forms.

For journalists and traders depending on foreign news providers, we're suddenly floundering in a news-free vacuum. In fact, the government census, whose job is expunging unsuitable Web sites, must be pretty happy. Suddenly everyone is depending on official sources of information, like Xinhua News Agency.

For me, without the distractions, my husband and I are actually reduced to having long conversations to pass the time and reading the good old-fashioned way.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.

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MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

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