Belize Bumped Off-Line

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 14, No. 42            December 2, 2004

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Most Belizeans were shut off from the outside world for much of the weekend when the Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) Internet and phone services were severed along with fiber optic lines that traversed the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

    It was an inconvenience for many on Ambergris Caye. For many business owners it was a nightmare. Steve Demaio, owner and operator of Coconet Café said he had no choice but to close-up shop. "It cost me thousands of dollars," he said. The most frustrating part for Demaio was not knowing what was happening or how long the blackout would last. "If I could have just had a straight answer from BTL, I could have made plans," he said. He was in the process of re-installing a satellite system Tuesday afternoon when BTL's DSL service was restored.

    Other businesses were able to capitalize on the situation. Island Internet still had in place their satellite internet link. As a result, many waited in lines for a turn to get on a computer. "We were about twice as busy as normal," said Logan Lindros, owner of Island Internet. He said in addition to his usual clientele who consist of residents who don't have internet access and tourists, business owners were frequenting his establishment first thing Monday morning.

    Tim Jeffers was one of those business owners. Manager of Banana Beach resort, Jeffers and his staff composed e-mail on a notebook computer at his resort, and then would go to Island Internet to send and receive E-mail. Jeffers says he relies heavily on the Internet for communicating with guests and is considering investing in satellite Internet.

    Can BTL customers expect a discount in their phone an Internet bills as a result of the accident? Ernesto Torres, Chief of BTL Network Services told Channel 5 News, "I believe so. The company has done similar things in the past when we've had prolonged outage and I'm sure the company will look at that favorably yes."

    How did it happen?

   BTL buys internet service from a company that has a huge fiber optics network of cables encircling the Caribbean Sea and part of the Atlantic Ocean. It is believed anchors from two ships ruptured the fiber optics cable. The first between Cancun and Miami, then a week later, last Friday, another between Venezuela and Columbia (See Network Map). While the incidents happened days apart, the combination of ruptures prevented the fail-safe redundancy built into system and forced a crash to many countries of Central America. What countries were affected had not been disclosed at press time. While the system's redundancy prevented a shut-down after the first incident, the system was not prepared to handle two separate incidents in this short amount of time.

    BTL buys their internet service from New World Network, Ltd., a leading provider of advanced, high-speed Internet services and the principal owner of the Americas Region Caribbean Optical-ring System (ARCOS).

    New World Network uses the ARCOS undersea broadband fiber-optic cable network that connects the United States with the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Curaçao, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Ecuador, El Salvador and Mexico (See Network Map).

    Because the ARCOS cable system is a "ring," it was thought that if a failure were to occur anywhere in the system, data would continue traveling through the fiber optic lines using the remaining system. However, since there were two ruptures in the system at the same time, a section, including Belize, was isolated and not protected.
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