Tonga hopes to repair fibre cable after days-long internet blackout

31 Jan 2019

Shoreline of Tongan town of Neaifu. Image: © Rohrlach/

Authorities in Tonga say they hope to have restored internet access by the weekend following more than a week without it after a fibre cable was severed.

Residents of island nation Tonga have been without access to the internet for 11 days after an underwater fibre optic cable that connects residents to high-speed internet was severed on 20 January.

According to The New Zealand Herald, authorities said they are hoping that full access will be restored by the weekend as experts endeavour to repair the crucial cable.

Residents have encountered several difficulties, from a lack of access to emails to an inability to process credit card payments. The country is home to a population of a little more than 100,000 people.

Limited access was restored to priority customers such as banks and public services via satellite, but most people have been blocked from using services such as Facebook and YouTube to conserve bandwidth.

ZDNet reports that the affected cable, which runs between Fiji and Tonga and connects to the Southern Cross Cable, went live in August 2013. It was jointly funded by the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.

A ship believed to have caused the damage

A director of cable operator Tonga Cable, Piveni Piukala, said the company believes a large ship severed the cable in a number of places by dragging its anchor along the ocean floor.

He added that a domestic cable that links some of Tonga’s outer islands with its main island was also cut.

According to The New York Times, people have been queueing for rationed internet access at the headquarters of national internet service provider Tonga Communications Corporation.

Connecting Tonga

Experts on a specialised ship are working on repairing the cable and hope to be finished by tomorrow (1 February). Piukala said that an oil tanker had been in the area when the cable was cut and that Tonga Cable would collaborate with police and port authorities to see if an act of negligence took place.

Repairs are said to cost more than $1m. Piukala said: “It’s a question of funding. The cost of a backup is huge and, for a country like Tonga, we don’t have the luxury of money to put aside for a disaster like this. Other priorities are more urgent.”

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects