Tonga has been plunged into virtual cyber darkness after an undersea cable broke, cutting off the Pacific island kingdom from almost all cellphone and Internet services.
Tonga relies heavily on links with the outside world for daily supplies and tourist earnings, and faced “an absolute disaster” as officials struggled to fix the problem.
“We are all heavily tied to the Internet for doing business and for the government,” said Mary Fonua, editor of the online news service Matangi Tonga. “There’s no Facebook, which is how the Tongan diaspora communicate with each other, businesses can’t get orders out, airlines can’t take bookings for passengers or freight.”
While the authorities look into the cause and struggle to find a solution, they have turned to a small, locally operated satellite connection as backup.
In the meantime, non-essential social media sites such as Facebook have been blocked to preserve bandwidth.
Restricted access also poses serious problems getting money transfers through for families who rely on income from relatives working overseas.
“It’s an absolute disaster for Tonga, a national crisis,” Fonua said.
Tonga Cable, which administers the 827km cable between Tonga and Fiji, said that Internet traffic had to be prioritized until repairs were completed, and in the meantime social media Web sites might be blocked while the nation of 110,000 relies on makeshift connectivity.
“Eighty percent of our international traffic is from social media,” Tonga Cable director Paula Piukala told Radio New Zealand. “We may block Facebook, YouTube and stuff like that in the meantime.”
Bank of South Pacific Tonga acting operations manager Salesi Fineangano said that telex transfers could be completed via satellite connection to the bank headquarters in Papua New Guinea, “but we need the regular Internet connection for Moneygram, Internet banking and e-mails.”
Officials said it could take up to two weeks to fix the cable.
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