A fiber cut takes down internet and phone service in Northeast Minnesota (Cook & Lake Counties)

MPR reports on how a fiber cut took down internet and phone services (landline and many mobile services) on the North Shore. Shops couldn’t accept credit cards, tourists couldn’t use credit cards or ATMs, hospitals couldn’t transfer x-rays for review and while police could accept calls few people could make them…

Those headaches began at 11:19 a.m. on Friday morning, when a company installing an underground cable about three miles north of Silver Bay accidentally cut the main fiber optic trunk line that runs from Duluth up the North Shore.

That line is owned by the Northeast Service Cooperative, or NESC, a nonprofit public corporation established by the state legislature that operates a 1,200-mile fiber optic network across northeastern Minnesota.

Jon Loeffen, who oversees that network for NESC, said it’s still unclear who cut the line. What is clear, he said, is that whoever it was broke the law by failing to properly notify existing utilities through Gopher State One Call that they were planning to dig in the area.

“That was a terrible place for us to get hit because it was a main artery to our network,” Loeffen said.

And that fiber optic line doesn’t just provide internet service. It provides fiber connectivity between cell towers and carriers like AT&T and Verizon. So when the line was cut Friday, it also disrupted cell phone service.

The story reminded me of Winter 2010, when a broken steam pipe in Duluth caused the same issues. I assumed the new fiber service took that incident into effect, sounds like they did but there are still issues…

For years there was only a single fiber optic line that linked the North Shore to the Duluth area. Any disruption to that line would often lead to widespread outages.

A few years ago NESC installed a second line to create a more diverse system with redundancy built into it, so that if one line went down, traffic could be diverted to the other line almost instantaneously.

But this incident exposed holes in the system. The cut to the fiber line a few miles north of Silver Bay occurred “in an area that did not have that redundancy built in on that particular segment,” said Loeffen.

It took about six hours to switch most internet and cell phone service over to that redundant line. But it took AT&T nearly 24 hours to restore its service, DeCoux said.

NESC is now putting together a plan to install additional equipment and reconfigure its network links up the North Shore, “so that hopefully in the future, if something like that occurs again, there won’t be an outage for some of those services because they’re going to be on a protected, diverse path,” Loeffen said.

The goal, he said, is to complete that work in less than a month.

This entry was posted in FTTH, MN, Security, Vendors by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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