Thousands of Belize Telecommunication Limited (BTL) customers in the country were affected by a serious network failure suffered by the Arcos-1 Fiber Optic Cable System, which provides BTL’s customers with Internet, phone and e-mail services. Airlines and hotels lost reservations and the banks could not conduct wire transfers, or approve credit card transactions. These businesses amongst many others were greatly affected by the network failure over the busy Thanksgiving holidays, which marked the start of the busy tourism season on the island.
According to a BTL press release, the Arcos-1 Fiber Optic Cable System experienced the network failure on Friday, November 26, resulting in the disruption of international communication between Belize and the rest of the world. Thirty five thousand residential phone customers, 60,000 mobile customers, and over 3500 internet customers had no internet and limited international direct dialed services.
In order to improve the situation with its telecommunication services, BTL established 270 circuits through the BTL Earth Station to route international calls. This added capacity provided its customers with the minimum of congestion when calling outside Belize, but it did not accomplish much for the thousands of customers who wanted to communicate with businesses in Belize.
This Monday, BTL was finalizing discussions with Veristar to establish 5 Megs of Internet capacity by the end of the day. According to the company, once the connection was put into place, customers were able to have limited access to Internet and e-mail sites outside of Belize. BTL also continued to explore other options to reroute the Internet traffic through alternative access points in order to restore full internet and e-mail services to its customers. During the time that BTL’s system was down, customers were still able to send and receive e-mails to customers within the BTL.net domain. Customers were also able to access Internet sites that were hosted locally.
According to one local airline service provider, the system failure caused drastic effects for their reservations operation, especially for the travel agencies in the United States, which relied mostly on the airline’s website for their reservation services. “Fortunately, we have an 800 direct number to Belize and many of our customers from outside Belize were able to communicate with us by using the number,” stated an employee of the airline. “Another useful option was the fax machine, whereby we were able to continue to do business on an almost normal operational basis. As we communicated with our customers overseas, we informed them of the telecommunications problems we were experiencing here in Belize.”
In a press release dated November 27, 2004 sent by the New World Network management (responsible for the Arcos-1 Cable System), customers were informed that the New World Network Operations and Engineering groups have been working since Friday evening, November 26, to localize the cause of a compounded network fault on the Arcos-1 system between Rioacha, Colombia and Punto Fijo, Venezuela. Arcos-1 had earlier switched to linear operation as a result of a separate cable fault between Cancun, Mexico and Miami, U.S.A. Further testing at Rioacha Landing Station pointed to a second fault on the undersea cable plant between Colombia and Venezuela. This unprecedented condition of dual simultaneous cable faults has resulted in virtual isolation of the network between Mexico and Colombia on the west side of the Arcos-1 system, including Belize.
Customers were informed last Saturday that the preliminary estimate for repair to the cable was 8-10 days, since the work to mobilize equipment to carry out repairs “requires some time” said the press release. Parallel to the cable repair work, New World Network was also working hard to explore alternative forms of interim restoration capacity in cooperation with other network operators. As of press time Tuesday, BTL informed through a press release that internet service had been fully restored. The company advised however, that customers may experience some delays due to the backlog of mails that have accumulated.
The problem with the Arcos fiber optic system is expected to be fixed by tomorrow Friday or by Saturday. Of course, rumors that the telecommunications company was failing to pay its bills abounded, as people loved to joke that BTL’s phone service was “cut” by the U.S. provider because of its poor pay performance.