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Communications

Tonga's internet cable blackout may take week to resolve

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Tonga's sudden internet black out is now going into its third day after a fault in a fibre optic submarine cable has cut its main connection with the world.

The submarine cable went down at 8.30pm Sunday, 20 January. Tonga Cable Ltd. manages the international connection and CEO ‘Etuini Liava‘a, said today that the problem was identified as low voltage.

Tonga's submarine cable is made up of two cables. They are not too sure exactly what the problem is at the moment, but so far, it has been identified that the fault is about 80 kilometres from Tonga.

“If the problem can be identified now it can be fixed within a week, otherwise it could take two weeks,” ‘Etuini said.

 Meanwhile, Tonga's two main ISP providers Tonga Communications Ltd. and Digicel Tonga Ltd., who use the cable along with Tonga Cable Ltd. itself, are all trying to tunnel their services through a small satellite connection, offered locally by EziNET.

EziNET connecting through the Kacific Satellite, is a third local ISP and Network Operator service using K-band satellite . EziNET is owned by Pacific Finance and Investments and run out of the Dateline Shipping Transam office, appears to be the Tongan public's only hope over the next week or so for getting reconnected to the world. The directors of EziNET are John Paul Chapman and Justin Kaitapu.

'Etunini said today that they were now connected in a limited way, but not running on maximum. He hoped it could be expanded.

“But don't expect to get what you had before, we have to prioritise the access,” he said.

Meanwhile, local businesses remain frustrated with the lack of email and internet services. 

Tourism bookings are being lost because most visitors book online, said one operator from western Tongatapu. Visitors arriving yesterday and today were unable to arrange airport pickups by email or messaging.

Money transfer operations are also hit hard by the internet failure.

Lusitania Nakao at FEXCO Western Union Tonga, said they had received a limited internet access at around 2:00pm today. “Before that we could not do anything all day Monday and this morning. But it is still very slow and we only have our HQ connected, not the outer islands, we are just hanging there at the mercy of the internet.”

Salesi Fineanganofo, acting manager for Bank South Pacific Tonga operations, said they can still do Telex Transfers through a satellite connection to their bank headquarters in Papua New Guinea. “But we need the regular internet connection for Moneygram, internet banking, and emails. We are at the mercy of the two telecommunications providers and while normally one or the other might go down for a couple of hours, we now have a double whammy,” he said.

It affects Tongan families and businesses. “We are currently looking at other means to go around this issue,” he said.

Tai'atu 'Ata'ata, an executive of the women's business organisations Langa Fonua and WISE Tonga, said she was surprised that there was not more fuss about the communications crash. “We live in a global world so companies can't afford to be cut off. This is ridiculous to have both providers down and no back-up services for the country, it's like the cyclone last year. What's the government doing?”

 

Tai'atu can't order supplies for her small school uniform business and she believed that the blackout is affecting some telephone services too. “We can't communicate with elderly parents in Melbourne and we can't use messenger services.” 

Meanwhile, Tonga Airports Ltd, were working with TCC to restore a limited internet connection yesterday and today. But it was not clear late this afternoon how the internet blackout might be affecting flights and passengers coming to and from Tonga. 

Tonga Telecommunications Corporation technical manager, Sione Veikoso said Tongan businesses are heavily reliant on the internet and were very frustrated today.

“It is a national problem.  There is a break in the fiberoptic cable and they [Tonga Cable] are telling us that it will be a week or two weeks to fix. Let’s hope it’s a week and not two,” he said. In the meantime the ISP is using a slower satellite connection. “We have prioritised corporate customers and essential public services and some were connected yesterday,” he said. Eazynet is trying to increase the capacity and that should be available later tonight.

Matangi Tonga Online's server is still running from an overseas server, but updates to the website will be limited over the next few days as we queue for the limited satellite service.

Matangi Tonga email service is currently unavailable.

Matangi Tonga telephones are working at +(676) 25779 and +(676) 878 1453 or +(676) 8896799. Please call to tell us how the internet failure is affecting you.