India Has An Internet Problem: Monkeys

Photo: Palani Mohan/Getty Images.
When the Internet goes dark, it's hard for us to think about much past Oh god, what am I going to do now? But, behind every outage, there's a cause. In the U.S., that cause is often serious congestion on the network, equipment failure, or a storm that takes down Internet conduits. In India, however (a country working doggedly to bring connectivity to its citizens), monkeys are the reason you can't get your Netflix fix.

"The monkeys, they destroy all the wires and eat all the wires," communications engineer A.P. Srivastava told Reuters

This is primarily an issue in Varanasi, a 3,000-year-old holy city that houses hundreds of sacred macaques in and around its temples. Here, the monkeys (apparently unsatisfied by the food they get from the environment, the tourists, and the Hindu devotees) turned to fiber optic cables along the Ganges river. In fact, they chewed through the cables less than two months after they were installed. And, unfortunately, officials are unsure about how to combat this: Trapping or chasing away the monkeys would anger temple visitors and local residents alike, and laying the fiber underground isn't an option, due to overcrowding in the two-million-strong city. 

Apparently, this sort of problem isn't unique. A wide variety of animals have an affinity for fiber optic cables. In 2011, squirrels were responsible for 17% of the damage to major fiber optic cable networks, although the number was dropping as cable guards were added. Sharks have been attacking trans-oceanic fiber optic cables (like Google's own Internet lines) since 1987. And, rats chewing through cables in Scotland have caused Internet outages

Fiber optic cables are made of long, thin strands of light-transmitting plastic or glass surrounded by a layer of plastic. It's possible that chewing on a cable could deliver an electric shock, but it's unlikely that any monkeys are being injured or killed by their habit — otherwise, their many human fans would have intervened already.

India is in the process of implementing an $18 billion plan to bring electricity and Internet access (in the form of 434,960 miles of broadband cable) to villages across the country. Right now, 20% of the country (roughly 250 million people) has Internet access, but the goal is to increase that to one third of residents over the next two years. Perhaps, by then, we'll have figured out a non-tasty coating for fiber optic cables — or will have implemented those squirrel-safe cable guards in order to dissuade orally fixated primates from nomming them to shreds. 

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