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Internet meltdown in Labrador West

For the most part it was cash only as internet services went down in Labrador West.
For the most part it was cash only as internet services went down in Labrador West. - Photo by Mike Power

Efforts being made to avoid a repeat

LABRADOR CITY, N.L.

NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR

CANADA

In addressing the media Rob Burton, network operations manager with CRRS (the cable, phone and internet provider in Labrador West) referred to it as
“the perfect storm.”

People getting ready for work or school on Wednesday, Sept. 5 who were customers of CRRS noticed their internet wasn’t working and for those who subscribe to their phone service, that was out too.

Burton told The Aurora the break occurred on infrastructure not belonging to CRRS but to providers who supply them.

“To make matters worse it was about 24 kilometres outside Labrador City in a very difficult area to work in, and to complicate things it was on property that belonged to IOC (Iron Ore Company of Canada),” he said.

It took a while to initiate the search for the problem and to co-ordinate the repair.

Meanwhile customers were soon aware just how dependent they were on the internet in their everyday lives.

Many stores and restaurants couldn’t process Interac transactions, for some restaurants it was cash only.

Then that put a rush on ATM machines. Some worked, others didn’t.

Then, as Burton referred to earlier, the storm got bigger.

In another part of town, a cable belonging to another provider was cut. That meant even more stores and customers in town were without internet.

Many were impacted. At a local grocery store it was cash only, but when people headed to a local bank to use the ATM machine that wasn’t functioning. Throughout the next day or so there were signs everywhere saying ‘cash only’.

In some cases businesses like a travel agency were closed, advising customers to use a toll-free number. Some classes at the local College of the North Atlantic campus were cancelled because it was going to be dealing with material that would be viewed online. Even the liquor store was closed for part of the time.

In many stores customers without cash walked away in frustration.

Meanwhile the fact that there were two cable breaks at the same time did cause some problems for the people who were coordinating repairs, until it was made clear that there were two separate breaks.

Ironically, CRRS had recently completed a plan for back-up, and that was the next part of the storm.

“We noticed there were a lot more interruptions this summer, especially along the route in Quebec where the internet comes from, especially due to a lot of construction problems, so we decided to go with a back-up plan,” Burton said.

“When we decided to put the back-up in service, there was another problem. It turns out there was a routing problem and technicians had to be dispatched to Fermont, Labrador City, and parts of Quebec to get it operational.”

The backup by CRRS was restored by Friday, Sept. 7, but was noticeably slower than the normal speed. By late Saturday or early Sunday all was returned to normal.

Burton says the redundancy is now in place permanently and will prevent a reoccurrence of the latest problems.

The other provider had most of their service restored the next day.

Burton says they will seek compensation for the interruption of service from the provider but isn’t sure if that will happen. Any compensation will be passed on to subscribers.

A meeting will be held between CRRS and the providers to review what happened and to make plans if other events happen.

Burton says he wished the repair time could have been faster, and he understands customer’s frustration.

“Of all the issues, this is by far the most complex interruption of service I’ve ever seen, compounded by dealing with two providers, in a remote area on mine owned land,” he said. “Our back-up system should now mean that this should never happen again.”

The Aurora has learned that some businesses that use Interac are looking at ways to install machines that will operate in the event of internet failures. Many people have said they will keep a small stash of cash at home, if case they ever have to face a situation like this again.

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