Sat, Jan 26, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Tonga no closer to fixing underwater Internet link

‘STRESSFUL’:Business, banking and travel services have been given priority to use a satellite system while the nation waits for a repair ship to arrive and start work

AFP, NUKU’ALOFA

Tonga’s struggle to maintain contact with the outside world yesterday continued with no start yet to repairing a crucial undersea cable that was severed five days ago.

The sole satellite network operator in the Pacific island nation, EziNET, is all that is keeping the kingdom from a virtual cyberblackout.

A tent and chairs have been set up near its offices where people wait their turn to complete basic services.

Banking transactions, flight bookings and placing business orders have been prioritized, while Facebook and other social media sites have been sidelined.

With a population of about 110,000, Tonga is heavily reliant on the Internet for its tourism industry and for the many people who rely on money transfers from overseas.

Edwin Liava’a, the chief executive of Tonga Cable, which administers the undersea lifeline, said that two breaks had been detected, but it could be at least a week before repairs were completed.

A cable ship docked in Samoa is capable of carrying out the work, but as of yesterday had still not started the three-day voyage, he said.

Liava’a said that he had informed the shipping company it had clearance to enter Tongan waters, but had not received a reply.

When it eventually does arrive, Liava’a said that the challenge would be to find if the breaks can be easily joined, or if the piece in the middle has floated away.

The 827km cable from Tonga to Fiji is the country’s main link with rest of the world.

“It’s very stressful,” Kingdom Travel acting manager Melenaite Veikune told online media outlet Matangi Tonga.

Melenaite said that she has moved two staff members to EziNET to make airline bookings for her customers and data was taken back to her office on a flash drive.

“Only people who pay cash can make bookings at the moment, not credit cards users. They have to go to the bank and try and withdraw cash,” she said.

Digicel Tonga chief executive Francis Thomsen said that the telecom’s priority was to work on critical services, such as international connections, and ensure key customers were connected.

“Our focus is to make sure the economy ticks,” he said. “Facebook is not a priority at the moment.”

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