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Tonga's internet may be cut off for weeks following eruption

One undersea cable was the only thing keeping the country online.

HUNGA TONGA-HUNGA HA'APAI, TONGA ā€“ DECEMBER 24, 2021: In this image 2. of a series created on January 19, 2022, Maxar overview satellite imagery shows the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano on December 24, 2021, before the eruption on January 14th , 2022 in Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai Islands, Tonga. (Photo by Maxar via Getty Images)
Maxar via Getty Images
Jon Fingas
Jon Fingas|@jonfingas|January 19, 2022 10:24 AM

The southern Pacific nation of Tonga is struggling following the eruption of a volcano, and that includes challenges getting online. According to Reuters and The Verge, the Tonga government has warned internet access is "down" following damage to the lone undersea fiber optic cable keeping the archipelago online. While the country didn't provide an initial estimate, the Southern Cross Cable Network's Craige Sloots told Reuters it might take as long as two weeks to repair the cable "all things going well."

It will take the repair ship up to nine days to travel from Papua New Guinea to Tonga, according to Sloots. The timing for the repair will also hinge on safety clearance and any lingering activity from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano. The 514-mile cable is secured through a Fiji relay.

Tonga has been somewhat prepared for incidents like this. It struck a 15-year agreement for satellite internet access with Kacific in 2019 after damage to the underwater cable. However, ZDNet learned a contract dispute with Kacific kept that access from being activated. Officials said the country's two telecoms were "working on satellite options" to restore service, but didn't provide timelines.

The outage underscores the vulnerability of internet access for island nations and other remote communities. While many countries connect to the rest of the world through undersea cabling, these more distant areas are frequently dependent on either a very limited cable network or expensive satellite service that can degrade in bad weather. Until these places have more reliable cables or lower-cost satellite data, they can't depend on the internet for vital services to the degree other regions can.

Tonga's internet may be cut off for weeks following eruption