Fault leaves thousands in Shetland without internet and email access

Thousands of homes and businesses in Shetland are without internet and email for a second day after the failure of the BT broadband link to the islands yesterday.

Shetland Coastguard also suffered the loss of its chain of radio-monitoring stations for 18 hours, forcing it to send teams with portable VHF radios to the tops of hills in Unst, Northmavine and Dunrossness to listen for ships in distress in the gales. Its service resumed at 10am today after BT was able to switch to an alternative system.

This latest broadband blackout is expected to last 26 hours until 6pm. It started shortly before 3pm yesterday, leaving many businesses either unable to operate or hampered in their trade.

BT spokesman Mitch Reid said it suspected possible lightning damage to its relay station in the island of Sanday in Orkney, causing around 4,000 customers to lose broadband.

An attempt to get an engineer to Sanday failed when Wednesday morning’s ferry was cancelled due to the weather and the Loganair flight was fully booked. Mr Reid said BT planned to get an engineer over in the afternoon.

There has been criticism of the lack of information with customers about the problem. BT Wholesale did give brief details to businesses which provide internet services, initially telling them it hoped to have the fault fixed by 6pm yesterday. That was later extended to this morning and then 6pm.

Ian Brown of Shetland Broadband said it had customers connected to 18 different exchanges in the islands from Unst to Sumburgh who were without broadband. He said it was causing “an awful lot of grief”, particularly to businesses which could not get or send emails.

“I think most folk do accept that things go wrong,” he said. “But in the last few weeks they have gone wrong quite frequently and for quite long periods of time.”

He said it was vitally important that faults were rectified as quickly as possible.

Some large organisations like Shetland Islands Council and the Sullom Voe oil terminal have been relatively unaffected by the latest failure because they use a separate microwave link to the outside world, provided by Cable & Wireless.

Shetland’s broadband link with the mainland is via a chain of microwave dishes which have been prone to problems in freak weather conditions.  In June last year a blown fuse at the Sanday relay station also led to the loss of phone and broadband in Shetland for eight hours.

More recently problems in Edinburgh and Inverness have led to customers in Shetland and elsewhere losing their service.

In an effort to improve links for Shetland the council has set up its own company Shetland Telecom to connect the islands into the Faroese fibre-optic cables which pass through the South Mainland to provide what it believes would be a faster, more reliable service.


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