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Tonga’s internet restored five weeks after massive eruption

If the thought of losing internet access for a couple of days causes you to break into a cold sweat, then spare a thought for the poor folks of Tonga.

On top of dealing with the aftermath of a destructive volcanic eruption that killed six people and destroyed countless homes, they’ve also been living without any internet since the disaster occurred five weeks ago.

Tonga was knocked offline on January 15 when the massive eruption tore apart the undersea internet cable that runs 500 miles to neighboring Fiji.

While a forced break from Instagram and TikTok might actually sound like a win for those who spend far too much time on such services, the loss of the internet also made it a challenge for some South Pacific islanders to perform work duties as well as contact loved ones overseas to let them know they were safe following the disaster.

On Tuesday the people of Tonga’s main island were relieved to discover they could once again reconnect to the world following the completion of repairs to the only undersea cable that linked it to the internet.

A ship carrying specialist repair equipment, 57 miles of new fiber optic cable, and a team of engineers arrived in Tonga from Papua New Guinea on February 3.

“Nobody would have guessed the disaster that we’ve encountered,” James Panuve, CEO of Tonga Cable Ltd, told local media this week. “Since the ship arrived, we’ve been working 24/7 for 18 days.”

It’s not all good news, though, as people living on the nation’s smaller islands will have to wait until repairs have been made to the domestic portion of the cable, a task that could take several more months if the damage is as bad as some fear.

Over the past few weeks, the Tongan government had been able to launch some basic internet services, but speeds were nowhere near those provided by the undersea cable.

Following a request for help soon after the eruption, SpaceX donated 50 Starlink internet dishes capable of providing broadband connectivity via its constellation of satellites, but the government has yet to deploy them. Now that the main island is reconnected, it seems likely the dishes will be used to help get the smaller islands back online.

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