31 Dec 2016

Marshall Islands experiencing Internet 'black out'

11:13 am on 31 December 2016

Marshall Islands access to the internet largely halted Wednesday night as repair work on a submarine fiber optic cable began.

National Telecommunication Authority's satellite reception disks at its Majuro headquarters

The Marshall Islands shifted all communications from a submarine fiber optic cable to satellites earlier this week, reducing bandwidth by 97 percent, as repair work started on the cable. It has resulted in a virtual blackout of Internet access for the nation. Photo: Giff Johnson

The National Telecommunications Authority in Majuro shifted all phone and Internet communications from the cable to satellites, reducing bandwidth available to this western Pacific nation by 97 percent.

Internet access was being limited to email only, with access to virtually all websites including all social media sites closed except for certain business customer requirements on a rotating basis.

The national telecom took the drastic action to prevent customers from streaming movies and videos that would prevent normal government and business email traffic in the reduced bandwidth situation.

"It gives us a new evaluation of what the Internet means to us," said Pacific International Inc. CEO Jerry Kramer, who manages the country's largest construction company.

Referring to the national telecom, Mr Kramer said, "they are sharing bandwidth with customers and doing their best in this situation."

Still, the 10-day disruption in cable service is difficult for companies such as Mr Kramer's working on deadlines for submitting large volume documents for construction projects.

The shut off of access to email sites such as those operated by Google, Yahoo and Hotmail also disrupted communications for some businesses, and the Ministry of Finance was struggling to process the government payroll with its access to its web-based payroll processing system curtailed.

Repair work on the cable was originally scheduled to start Tuesday, but was delayed by a day, said NTA Deputy General Manager Yoshi Kaneko.

A US government official said on Friday that the original completion date for repairs of January the 5th was extended to January the 8th, in part because of rough ocean conditions at the location of the repair, about 10 miles west of Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

A repair vessel is currently on site to fix the cable, which was originally installed in late 2009, linking the Marshall Islands and Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia with Guam and the outside world.