Mobile internet provides lifeline after earthquake knocks out Puerto Rico infrastructure

Network data from the NetBlocks internet observatory confirm significant impact to the island’s fixed-line networks after an earthquake struck south of Puerto Rico early Tuesday 7 January 2020 at 4:24 a.m. local time (08:24 UTC). Disruptions continue some six hours after the incident first registered.

National connectivity fell to 60% of ordinary levels amid power cuts as the 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck, however the resilience of Puerto Rico’s cellular networks has allowed residents to remain largely online as they address the crisis.

Norberto Cruz Córdova, president of Internet Society Puerto Rico explains, “We’re experiencing seismic moves since 28th of December which have being increasing in last 2 days with a 6.4 earthquake this morning. Currently, there’s a major energy blackout in the island but telecom systems are up and the citizens are communicating via cellphones. At this moment the Internet is up.”

Puerto Rico has experienced a series of tremors in recent days, several of which are reflected in national connectivity measurements taken by the NetBlocks internet observatory

Network data show a fall in connectivity across most autonomous networks registered to Puerto Rico at the same time the earthquake struck, 4:24 a.m. local time (08:24 UTC). Readings suggest indicate the outage is strongly correlated to the failure of power supply. This is reflected in outages to broadband networks and technical infrastructure while impact is less evident when it comes to international traffic.

Earthquakes and internet connectivity

Earthquakes and tremors can have impact on data transit as well as the edge of the network for a variety of reasons. Puerto Rico’s internet disruption is closely tied to the major power failure.

Although disruptions are typically associated with fixed-line connectivity in these scenarios, the assumption is not universal. In September 2019, NetBlocks tracked a partial internet disruption in Turkey caused by a 5.7 magnitude earthquake which primarily affected mobile networks:

 


Methodology

NetBlocks diffscans, which map the IP address space of a country in real time, show internet connectivity levels and corresponding outages. Purposeful internet outages generally have a distinct network pattern used by NetBlocks to determine and attribute the root cause of an outage, a process known as attribution which follows detection and classification stages.

A summary of data visualizations used in this report:

  • Network Connectivity (National): All major internet providers and networks serving the affected region are visualized in a stacked time-series chart to identify the start and end times of an internet outage event. Scales on the y-axis are adjusted to match localized maxima while minima are scaled to 0 indicate periods when networks became unreachable. The x-axis represents Universal Coordinated time (GMT+0). Connectivity levels on the y-axis correspond directly to the observed number of reachable connections, as with National Connectivity charts.

NetBlocks is a civil society group working at the intersection of digital rights, cyber-security and internet governance. Independent and non-partisan, NetBlocks strives for an open and inclusive digital future for all.

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