Flooding in Tasmania exposes fragile telecoms infrastructure, consumer group laments

According to consumer action group Digital Tasmania, major flooding in northern Tasmania damaged backbone fiber optic cables in three locations in less than 24 hours, exposing the fragility of telecommunications infrastructure across the country. ‘State.

Digital Tasmania listed the three locations as follows:

• Spreyton: Thursday evening a Telstra cable was cut, possibly due to flooding
• Riana: Friday morning, a Telstra cable was cut due to flooding
• Poatina: On Friday morning, a fiber optic cable was cut due to a landslide when the pylons of the high voltage line carrying it collapsed.

“While these outages only caused localized mobile, landline and internet outages in the Spreyton and Riana areas, the impact could be much worse if another cable on a different route was also damaged before they are repaired,” said Andrew Connor, spokesperson for Digital Tasmania. .

Digital Tasmania explained that these cables “also serve as critical links connecting Tasmania to the world, not just Telstra, but almost other communications providers in the state”.

On March 1, 2022, the state’s telecom blackout lasted six hours when Telstra’s two cables between Melbourne and Tasmania were coincidentally and unintentionally cut within hours.

As a result, landline, mobile, Internet and TV services were disrupted.

“This time it appears that the two Telstra cable cuts in North West Tasmania were on the same route between Melbourne and Launceston/Hobart. The fiber optic cable cut on the Poatina high-voltage transmission tower likely only affected business customers,” Connor noted.

In either case, business customers using Telstra and fiber optic cables normally have protected capacity, meaning they use a second cable for backup, according to Digital Tasmania.

Professional clients have been informed of the incident. They also noticed outages with monitoring tools and experienced limited capacity in some situations.

“Three cables were cut in one day and the near blackout in March 2022 highlights the critical nature of telecommunications services used by consumers as well as the management of important infrastructure such as water and electricity assets. “, Connor said.

“Tasmania dodged a bullet yesterday in terms of widespread connectivity outages during these floods, at a time when the community and emergency services are highly dependent on communications services. Widespread outages could still occur if links spares are also damaged or experience equipment failure before these cables are repaired,” Connor warned.

Digital Tasmania has previously highlighted the risks that Tasmania has limited connectivity to the world, both in terms of reliability and competitive access.

The consumer organization has listed the previous major failures:

• 2022 – March 1: the two Telstra cables are cut, outage lasting more than 6 hours for many services.
• 2017 – May/June: Basslink cable cut for repair – out of service for weeks
• 2010 – About an hour (cable cut at the same time as planned maintenance)
• 2000 – Two cable breaks at Tas but on the same path.

The group said the Tasmanian government was asked in 2014 to contribute $20 million to connect the state to a new communications cable being built between Sydney and Perth. However, the government rejected the proposal.

The group estimated that the cumulative losses during the six-hour outage for Tasmanian customers and businesses likely exceed the proposed contribution.

Digital Tasmania urges the government to consider participating in or adopting future fiber optic regulations that can connect Tasmania.

Examples include:
• Hyper One: from Launceston to Melbourne and from Hobart to Sydney
• Hawaiki Nui: from Melbourne to New Zealand, Asia and North America
• Marinus Link: 2 electrical interconnections between Tasmania and Victoria

“Failing to improve Tasmania’s communications resilience after this near miss and Mark’s major outage would be a lost lesson in what could happen if there were natural disasters or damaged underwater parts of the cables, which which could involve much longer outages,” Connor concluded.

This first appeared in the CommsWire subscription newsletter on October 17, 2022.