If you are heading to Tonga in the next few weeks, get ready to step back in time. The fiber-optic cable connecting the country with the outside world was severed this week, so you may need a wad of cash, postage stamps and lots of patience.
Imagine yourself on a beautiful, tropical island in Polynesia. Sunshine…white sandy beaches…a tropical rainforest. Sounds like paradise, right? Well, if you need to communicate with the outside world, it’s more like paradise lost.
Forget about international phone calls, debit card transactions and Internet services. That’s because Tonga, a South Pacific country made up of some 170 islands, is virtually incommunicado since an undersea fiber-optic cable was severed on Sunday evening about six miles from shore. The cause has not been determined. Speculation is that a ship’s anchor, a magnetic storm or lightning may have caused the damage.
It’s been called an “absolute disaster.” The country needs the Internet to do business, whether its to send emails, handle airline and hotel bookings, transfer money, or make phone calls. Local businesses are frustrated.
A satellite dish was set up by a local company to provide some connectivity, although there are long wait times reported. Hundreds of people are queueing up outside a government telecom office. While repairs are being made to the 514-foot cable, social media websites such as Facebook and YouTube may be blocked so that the small bandwidth available can be maximized.
Repairs could take up to three weeks.