14 Sep 2021

Second day without internet and cellphone reception on West Coast

4:06 pm on 14 September 2021

Cellphone reception and internet connection has been restored for thousands of people on the West Coast.

Woman use of mobile phone

Photo: 123RF

About 3500 people from Greymouth to Fox Glacier were without reception for more than 24 hours after the Chorus network went down in wild weather in the early hours of Monday morning.

Richard Mackley of West Coast IT Services in Hokitika said this morning he had driven 10km north to use the cellphone tower at Kumara and was working out of his car near the Arahura Bridge.

He had no internet, cellphone or landline reception in Hokitika.

Spark had told him it was likely to be fixed by mid afternoon but he questioned the resilience of the infrastructure on the coast.

He said the outage seemed to be widespread, with people spread along the highway trying to find reception, which was overloading the available services.

"I'd seriously be concerned if someone needed to call anyone in an emergency."

Chorus head of external communications Steve Pettigrew said a lightning bolt at about 4pm yesterday melted 600m of fibre cable that ran through private land.

The paddocks on that land then flooded and the outage had affected mobile and broadband services in the Westland District, from Greymouth to Fox Glacier.

Pettigrew said a temporary repair was done, with a replacement cable spliced in to bypass the damaged section, with services restored by 1.30pm on Tuesday.

A permanent repair to be scheduled at a later date.

Chorus was part way through building a fibre connection from Fox Glacier to Lake Hawea which meant when part of the network was damaged, traffic could be routed through an alternate section, he said.

"Once that happens these events won't occur again."

That work was due to be completed by March.

MP for West Coast-Tasman Damien O'Connor said the outage was inconvenient and had gone on for longer than expected.

"It is unfortunate that notification didn't go out from the providers, letting people know how long it might be.

"People do need to have some kind of certainty about how long they might be out of communication for."

O'Connor said there were many remote, rural areas in New Zealand that were dependent on basic lines of communication and when there was an outage, they were totally isolated.

"As we go forward these natural events might occur more often and all the best technology in the world is still subject to interference from natural events and disasters and we all have to have a backup plan."

He said the installation of a fibre loop had been underway on the West Coast for a number of years and once complete it would ensure there were two forms of communication out.

"Obviously if that fibre link gets blown up by lightning as we have seen, then that does create some big problems. Whether it is satellite or other long term resilience programmes, that is something that has to be looked at."

The installation of a fibre loop had been underway on the West Coast for a number of years and once complete it would ensure there were two routes for communication, he said.