Tasmanians were cut off from the rest of the world on Tuesday afternoon after two of the fibre optic three cables connecting the state to mainland Australia were badly damaged on the same day.
Customers with Telstra, Optus, Aussie Broadband and other service providers were affected by widespread outages to mobile and broadband internet connections that lasted until the early evening.
The cables were damaged through civil and road works in separate incidents – one in Tasmania, and the other in Victoria – that highlighted the susceptibility of Tasmania’s internet to accidental sabotage.
“Our network across the Bass Strait is configured with multiple redundancies, with the two main links providing back up for each other, and a third smaller link being available for priority traffic – such as Triple Zero and voice – on the very rare chance both main links go down,” a Telstra spokesperson said.
“Unfortunately, this is what has occurred.”
A perfect storm of errors caused Tuesday’s outage which began around 11am in Frankston, Melbourne when an auger is understood to have torn through one of the two fibre cables Telstra operates down to Tasmania.
Repair crews had to haul and reconnect “nearly one kilometre of fibre” thanks to what a Telstra spokesperson described as “massive damage” to the Melbourne cable.
Meanwhile, roadworks on the Bass Highway in Doctors Rocks – west of Devonport – had damaged the second of Telstra’s cables, according to Internode’s fault logs, and it wasn’t until around 5pm that the exact location was found and repair work could begin.
Connectivity was restored just after 7pm.
During the outage, locals were effectively sent back in time, having to pay for items with cash while electronic payment systems and some banking services were down, and some residents resorted to dusting off DVDs for entertainment in the absence of Netflix and social media.
Andrew Connor from Digital Tasmania said it was the “worst-case scenario” having both cables go offline on the same day, telling ABC News it showed how easily the Apple Isle can be cut off from the mainland.
“Tasmania could always benefit from another fibre-optic cable, a fourth or fifth, so there’s competition, but also guaranteed reliability,” he said.
“If this outage ran on for a day or even 12 hours it would be catastrophic for business, catastrophic for people trying to buy fuel, go to the supermarket. Even a lot of TV channels are out at the moment.”
Problems with undersea cables to Tasmania aren’t new. Back in 2015, an outage from the Basslink power cable caused an energy crisis as the state became fully reliant on locally-produced electricity for months.