LIHUE — Efforts are underway to repair the undersea cable responsible for islandwide internet outages in late October and early November, but the problem is 10 miles offshore, over a half mile deep and is expected to take several more weeks to fix, according to an executive with the company responsible for maintaining the fiber optics line.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz sent open letters to CenturyLink, Verizon and Charter Communications executives on Nov. 8, requesting further details about the cause of and responses to the cable failure, which he said, “left many of the island’s residents and business without access to phone, internet, or cable services for a 24-hour period, with some customers experiencing outages for up to two days.”
Schatz’s letter voiced particular concern that the outage “appears to have contributed to interruptions of 911 services.” CenturyLink and Verizon have both been fined by the Federal Communications Commission in recent years for outages that left their users unable to complete emergency phone calls, according to FCC records.
All three companies responded on Nov. 22 deadline Schatz set in his inquiry letters.
CenturyLink — co-owns undersea cable, handling repairs.
“After completing extensive testing, CenturyLink determined the damage was approximately 17 kilometers from the island and 1,000 meters underwater,” Martin Valence, vice president of network operations for Century Link, wrote in a Nov. 22 letter to Schatz.
Valence said CenturyLink’s primary goal is completing repair work on the undersea cable and has “engaged the services of a specialized repair vessel, which is en route to Kauai to pick up remaining supplies and conduct repair work.”
In order to fix the cable, engineers will have to find both ends of the severed cable on the ocean floor and bring them to the surface for splicing and testing before returning the restored cable to the seabed, according to Valence.
“We expect repairs to be completed in the next several weeks, depending on weather and sea conditions, and assuming we do not encounter other unexpected damage,” he wrote.
Robert Fisher, a senior vice president with Verizon, provided a more detailed timeline of the company’s response in the immediate wake of the cable malfunction than had previously been made public.
Verizon lost connection to “approximately two-thirds” of its cell sites on Kauai at 8:20 p.m. on Oct. 27, according to Fisher. At some point during the night or early morning, Fisher said Verizon “regained basic connectivity to our cell sites, but due to extremely limited bandwidth of the available back-up undersea fiber connection, service was degraded or unusable during that time.”
Then, just before 6 a.m. on Oct. 28, Verizon “lost all connectivity to our cell sites as traffic ramped up in the morning, causing more congestion on the back-up fiber,” leaving its customers without internet access until around 5 p.m., when Spectrum moved Verizon’s services to “a different fiber with much larger bandwidth,” according to Fisher.
In response to Schatz’s questions about plans to establish a backup line that would prevent further extended internet outages on Kauai, Fisher said that because Verizon is not a “wireline provider” in the state and it doesn’t own any “backhaul cable facilities,” but contracts with other providers for use of the fiber optics line.
“When possible, we make choices that increase redundancy by contracting with multiple backhaul providers,” Fisher wrote. “On the island of Kauai, for example, we have forgone the cost savings of wholesale purchasing from a single backhaul provider and instead pay a higher rate to be served by two providers.”
According to Fisher, that arrangement allowed Verizon to prevent a complete islandwide loss of service and re-route the affected broadband traffic to Spectrum’s backup cable.
Charter Communications — doing business as Spectrum.
Vanessa Sinders, a senior vice president for Charter Communications, provided little in the way of new information regarding Spectrum’s efforts to restore internet services to Kauai residents, repeatedly referencing “confidential” or “proprietary” information.
Spectrum services were down twice as long as Verizon, and went out again on Nov. 2, just days after the first outage, an incident the company never issued a public statement about, Sinders admitted in her reply to Schatz.