One cable was damaged near Alexandria, Egypt, and the other in the waters off Marseille, France, telecommunications operators said. The two cables, which are separately managed and operated, were damaged within hours of each other. Damage to undersea cables, while rare, can result from movement of geologic faults or possibly from the dragging anchor of a ship.
On Thursday, Reuters reported, Egypt had only about 40 percent of its Internet capacity available. "The service will come up to 40 percent this morning--and by tomorrow up to 70 percent," said Mariam Fayez, a spokeswoman for the Egyptian telecommunications ministry. "We are seeking alternative solutions such as satellite and alternative cable."
The Egyptian ministry said it did not know how the connection had been cut, or if weather was a factor, Reuters reported. Storms had forced Egypt to temporarily close the northern mouth of the Suez Canal on Tuesday, making ships wait in the Mediterranean.
Hundreds of undersea cables often owned and managed by international consortiums keep telecommunications running worldwide. A surge in phones and Internet connections in Asia and to new financial hubs like Dubai has increased traffic on many of these cables.
Most disrupted communications were quickly rerouted through other cables.
"Some of our customers were impacted" by the damaged cables on Wednesday morning until the company rerouted traffic, said Linda Laughlin, a spokeswoman for Verizon. The company is building a trans-Pacific cable from Oregon to China, South Korea, and Taiwan because it needs more capacity in Asia, she said.
A trade group in India estimated that roughly 60 percent of the country's Internet users were affected on Wednesday, but many large companies switched quickly to back-up plans, and business was not significantly disrupted. India is the primary customer service center for many American and European financial services companies, and Indian companies handle back-office operations for many of the world's largest corporations.
"In some way or another every company took a hit," said R.S. Parihar, an executive with the Internet Services Provider's Association in India. Internet traffic heading east from India was disrupted, and many companies rerouted their Internet traffic to the west instead, he said.
"In the case where people had only one route they were in trouble," Parihar said. Smaller companies, or those that did all their business with countries east of India, were the most affected, he said.
One of the affected cables stretches from France through the Mediterranean Sea and Red Sea, then around India to Singapore. Known as Sea Me We 4, the cable is owned by 16 telecommunications companies along its route.
The second cable, known as the Flag (for Fiber-optic Link Around the Globe) System, runs from Britain to Japan.
Ashutosh Sharma, a spokesman for Bharti Communications, one of India's largest telecommunications companies, said the company had "taken significant steps to ensure that services are available by routing traffic through alternative paths." Bharti was working closely with the cable operators to "restore normalcy as soon as possible," he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.