A consortium consisting of eight U.S. and Asian telecom firms achieved an important milestone with the completion of the first phase of the 11,000-mile fiber optic Trans-Pacific Express (TPE) submarine cable system—the first such system ever to provide a direct link between the Chinese and U.S. mainland. The $500 million project was announced by Verizon Communications and South Korea’s KT Group in December 2006 at a time when an earthquake off the coast of Taiwan severed undersea cables in the area and underscored the critical need for increased transmission capacity throughout the Asia-Pacific region. That same month, Chungwha Telecom of Taiwan joined the project alongside China Netcom, China Telecom and China Unicom. AT&T and NTT Communications of Japan were added to the group this year. With the participation of NTT, TPE—which features five landing sites in the U.S., China, South Korea and Taiwan—would add a sixth landing site in Japan. Observers also say that, upon completion of Phase II, TPE would boast six terabits of capacity that can handle the equivalent of 62 million simultaneous phone conversations—or more than 60 times the capacity of existing U.S.-China cables at the time of the project’s inception.