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Severed deep-sea cable disrupts service

By Gene Park / gpark@staradvertiser.com
and Gregg Kakesako / gkakesako@staradvertiser.com

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:06 a.m. HST, Jul 28, 2010


When it comes to repairing a severed fiber-optic cable 3,000 feet under the sea, it won't be as simple as calling the cable guy.

"Wish it was," said Cliff Miyake, general manager of tw telecom, which co-owns the severed cable that interrupted service for hours to about 400,000 Oceanic Time Warner Cable customers here yesterday. "It could be a very costly repair."

At about 1:10 a.m., Oceanic Time Warner started seeing disruptions. It was later discovered that part of a fiber-optic cable was severed about 30 miles off Kihei, Maui.

Most, if not all, Internet service was restored by yesterday afternoon. TV service on Maui and the Big Island was the last to be restored because of the cut's proximity to both counties.

Oceanic Time Warner rents bandwidth (data transmission capacity) from the fiber-optic cable, co-owned by Colorado-based tw telecom and Wavecom Solutions, formerly Pacific Lightnet. Tw telecom was part of Time Warner Cable but became an independent entity in 2008.

Oceanic Time Warner is among 144 Maui firms that rent bandwidth from that section of the cable. That section went online in 1997, Miyake said.

When the cable was cut, Internet protocol addresses did not know which route to take back to the mainland. Oceanic crews had to reroute connections through alternate cables connecting the islands.

"We have a daisy-chain fiber connection that connects all the islands together," said Norman Santos, Oceanic's vice president of operations. "The main transmission point for Oceanic Cable is here on Oahu."

Oahu and Kauai services were restored by 8 a.m. yesterday. Maui and Big Island services were restored by yesterday afternoon.

"We have a disaster recovery plan," Miyake said. "There was another separate system we had access to, so we worked to get that up and running, and that's what we'll be using."

It was not immediately known how the cable was cut. Initial indications seem to point to the possibility that water may have seeped into the cable, but Santos said crews cannot be sure until they see the cable itself.

A cable repair ship must be contracted by owners tw telecom and use pontoons to float the cable up to the service for repair. The process is likely to take up to five weeks, Santos said.

The cable is a Prisma DT digital transport system by Georgia-based Scientific-Atlanta Inc., which is now part of Cisco Systems Inc., according to Star-Advertiser files.

The system delivers Oceanic's video-on-demand and cable channel programming, major broadcast television programming, residential high-speed cable modem service and high-speed data service for government clients.

Maui County officials reported that offices with phone numbers that have the 270 prefix were unable to receive or make phone calls due to a disruption of service. Also affected were offices at the county building in Wailuku and administrative offices of the Wailuku Police and Fire departments.

Big Island Civil Defense said there was a "minor inconvenience" with Internet service. However, the agency also uses DSL Internet connections.

State Civil Defense, which uses a special dedicated line provided by Oceanic, did record that a break occurred, but it did not affect its Internet, said Shelly Ichishita, state spokeswoman.

Bank of Hawaii experienced phone problems with service on Maui and the Big Island, but full service was restored at 10:30 a.m.

Russell Pang, a spokesman for the Governor's Office, said the state government does not use Oceanic for any of its phone service.

Hawaiian Telcom services were not affected by the undersea cable cut, but made its interisland fiber-optic cable network available to assist residents and businesses on the Big Island, Maui, Molokai and Lanai during the cable repair process, said Hawaiian Telcom President and Chief Executive Officer Eric Yeaman in a written statement.

Oceanic users having problems connecting with Oceanic Roadrunner Internet service may have to reboot by unplugging the cable modem for 20 seconds and then plugging it back in.

Santos said Oceanic is still evaluating whether to allow claims on loss of business due to yesterday's outage. Oceanic has a policy to not respond to claims unless the outage was longer than 24 hours, but Santos acknowledged that yesterday's outage was a unique circumstance.

"This is not normal," Santos said. "We'll make the determination, and once we know the final remedy, we'll go from there."






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