Japan’s Internet proves quake-proof

A crowd-sourced radiation tracking project is just one way the Internet is helping the relief effort


As silver-linings go, it may not be much; but it is remarkable to learn that Japan’s Internet barely skipped a beat after last week’s devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami and aftershocks.

Physical damage did occur to network infrastructure, but within hours the self-correcting architecture of Japan’s Internet routed around it and information flowed freely. Keep in mind that this damage coincided with a massive surge in Internet use, as users around the world suddenly began demanding live video and other data from Japan.

The catastrophe provides a valuable real-world example of how important it is for nations to invest in strong, well-planned digital networks with multiple redundancies. Japan’s Internet has long been the envy of the world.

But so what?  Given the human cost, the ongoing suffering, and the very real threat of nuclear disaster, who cares about a resilient Internet? Well, consider this:

  • After the quake, as roads closed and mobile phone networks jammed up, the Internet kept the nation connected. It’s how relatives checked in on each other, and it’s helping now with relief efforts.
  • It’s also helping to assess the damage in innovative ways, like this crowd-sourced radiation tracking project.  It will take some time for authorities to know just how real the threat of radiation poisoning is in every area of Japan, so until then, citizens are taking the matter into their own hands. Folks with Geiger counters are uploading to this Google Map.


Japan’s Internet proves quake-proof

  1. Since the net was set up to provide continuing communication during a nuclear war, I don't see this as remarkable.

    The real difficulty occurs when one country 'shuts down' the local net servers whilst they murder citizens.

    • I think in such situations 'citizens' are more properly termed 'subjects'

      • There is currently a bill in the US to allow the president [any president] to have a 'kill switch'….something that got a great deal of good publicity until the uprisings in the ME when countries there 'switched off' the net.

        So don't assume it's a citizens v subjects situation

      • "Targets" would be more precise.

  2. Physical damage did occur to network infrastructure, but within hours the self-correcting architecture of Japan's Internet routed around it and information flowed freely.

    I'm not sure I'd refer to this as "Japan's internet". Self correcting architecture is a feature of the internet, full stop. The whole design of the internet from the ground up is to route information around problems in the network to keep information flowing freely. That's what the internet is. I'm not convinced that there's anything special about "Japan's" internet per se, this is just what the internet is, and how it works. What's remarkable to me is those rare times when something STOPS the internet somewhere (like in Egypt recently), not that it continues to function in the face of disaster.

    The internet was designed from the earliest days to continue to function in the face of disaster, ironically, particularly a nuclear disaster. As Emily implies above, DARPA created the internet in response to the U.S. military's concerns about the survivability of their communications networks (particularly between the Pentagon, Cheyenne Mountain and the Strategic Air Command headquarters in Nebraska) during a nuclear war. As horrible as what's happening in Japan today is, anything that was designed to survive full-on nuclear assault from the Soviet Union ought to have not much trouble with this.

  3. I get your point, folks- there is no "Japan's Internet", just *the Internet*. But I think you get mine too: each nation has its own infrastructure, and Japan's is especially well-designed and robust. Physical catastrophes may not be able to take a country offline completely, but they certainly can render the Internet effectively useless when it's most needed. This hasn't happened in Japan, and that's pretty great, I think.

    • While it is great that a robust internet infrstructure is intact, as the above commenter noted, what happens to access if the power system is cut off?

      The source of electricy could be further compromised as problems continue with the nuclear reactors.

      • I don't see Japan as any more 'robust' than any other country….a server is a server.

        It's not having the electrical system they need to be concerned about…and to prepare for

        • It's not just about servers

          • I'm aware of that, but my comment stands.

          • There is a Japanese Internet. The infrastructure is one thing as well as being connected to the world. But another thing is being connected within it's own country's servers, better: services. That worked and is great. Japanese could find Japanese subjects.

            I try to run an international service and just made the experience that it is hard to get into to a connected network of a civil society. It is even harder if language is not much related to yours. Characters? It is difficult into this part of the internet.

    • Doesn't "especially well-designed and robust" really pretty much happen automatically when there are a huuge number of ISPs serving a large number of customers?

      Couldn't one just as easily substitute "well-designed and robust" with "popular therefore ubiquitous"…?

      And I am not trying to be cheeky. I am wondering what is it about Japan (besides my own guess here) that made its internet so robust.

  4. Am I correct in thinking that when emergencies flood mobile phone systems that texting still is viable because the bandwidth requirements and data-transmission-durations per message are so much less than voice?

    I've heard that claim often, and repeated it myself, but if it is an urban myth, I'd like to know.

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