Fiber optic repair means slow internet in Pohnpei but almost no Internet services in RMI

FSMTC had bought backup bandwidth and taken other steps to minimize the impact

On December 28, 2016, at exactly 19:45 and at the direction of the CS Dependable, the submarine fiber optic cable repair ship, FSM Telecommunications Corporation (FSMTC) disconnected power from Segment 4 of the HANTRU1 Branching Unit to Pohnpei Terminal Station by putting their Power Feed Equipment in the short circuit position after ramping voltage and amperes down to zero

fiber 01.
Pohnpei, FSM—The fiber optic line that provides data and voice service to the FSM was as “offline” as it could get as of 7:45 on December 28. The branch that services the Marshall Islands also had to be turned off. Fiber optic service to the two nations will remain offline until the owners of the HANTRU1 cable that stretches across the ocean floor from Guam to Kwajalein, Marshall Islands is able to finalize repairs to the cable.
The estimated date for completion of repairs has changed several times since the project began as new faults were found. At press time, the ship’s schedule listed the completion date for repairs as January 18, but a spokesperson for Truestone, one of the owners of the cable provided a different date in an email to FSMTC. “There were a number of technical challenges locating the fault,” he wrote. “We have now found the fault and have started the process of making the repair. The current schedule shows the repair complete between 1/21 and 1/24. The later date includes contingencies due to bad weather or other unexpected circumstances.” By press time, FSMTC was unable to ascertain which of the dates is actually correct.


Both MINTA (Marshall Islands National Telecommunications and Authority) and FSMTC (FSM Telecommunications Corporation) are customers who pay for services on the line. Neither was responsible for the repairs that are underway.
When the fiber optic cable was shut down for repairs, the Marshall Islands all but shut down. The College of the Marshall Islands rescheduled its start up for the spring semester because of it. The Bank of Guam said it couldn’t process allotments as it had previously done. The government could not process purchase orders or payments because they were web based. Home users were entirely cut off and businesses had very limited daily access and had to schedule it. Many could not, and some had services of an hour or less per day if that. This evening, MINTA proudly sent a mass message to users saying that effective today Internet connection would be available to government offices and business during working hours and that home users would have access from 7 PM to 7 AM.
The front page of today’s Marshall Islands Journal says that MINTA had finally bought $40,000 worth of bandwidth.
FSMTC customers have not had it nearly so bad. Because FSMTC had arranged to send the domestic internet and international voice link transmissions to a provider in Hong Kong instead of routing those transmissions to Pohnpei and then out through the fiber optic cable, those customers have seen slightly faster Internet connection than they had previously. Pohnpei customers who have the greatest demand for Internet services nationwide have suffered the most during the repair.
Like MINTA, FSMTC initially shut down home ADSL but only during the 8 AM to 5 PM working hours in order to let commerce flow, even if more slowly. No businesses had to queue up or schedule internet hours. The repairs were only supposed to take a few days, but the TE Subcom crew making the repairs off the shore of Kwajalein found more extensive damage than they had initially thought there might be and the end date for repairs was rescheduled several times. FSMTC bought more bandwidth and at 3:30 in the morning on January 10 began using that bandwidth to provide service to their home ADSL users 24 hours a day.
Bandwidth is a measurement of how many bits of digital information can be transmitted per second over a medium like fiber optic cables. The telecom providers sell bandwidth packages that they are expected to provide to their subscribers. How much band width a telecom provider needs depends on the bandwidth packages it has sold and the expected number of users they expect to be simultaneously accessing the fiber optic cable at any give time.
The HANTRU1 cable and its spurs have maximum capacities of 160 Gbps (giga bits per second). Half of that is available FSM and RMI but neither has purchased anywhere near that amount.
FSMTC has purchased “pipelines” that allow them to access 4 Gbps if they absolutely need it, but they never have come even close to needing it. FSM wide access needs average about 1 Gbps for both Internet and long distance phone services, but the standard deviation on that average is quite high. At about 10:00 each evening, as ADSL customers are watching Netflix movies or doing other things on their computers at home, Pohnpei’s data demand peaks at about 1.2 Gbps. In the wee hours of the morning the fiber optic demand is quite small for quite a while.
There are also monthly peaks. On the second Tuesday of each month, Microsoft sends out patches and updates to Windows users. On that day, the incoming data demands peak drastically as thousands of computers across the FSM download those updates over the course of the next few days. Microsoft’s most recent update was sent two days ago. Given the already small bandwidth availability, Internet service became notice-ably slower. Other major software companies also send updates at about the same time, further draining already limited bandwidth.
Both FSMTC and MINTA (Marshall Islands National Telecommunications Authority) have known for months that the repairs were scheduled but seem to have made substantially different types of preparations to cover the loss of bandwidth that the fiber optic cable provides.
MINTA prepared a backup plan with its satellite service provider for 50 Mbps (megabits per second) for the entire nation, 3% of its average bandwidth, all but shutting down Internet services and also interrupting some voice services.
FSMTC worked with its satellite provider (ABS-Satellite) to facilitate 197 Mbps of new bandwidth. When the repairs began, FSMTC already had the backup bandwidth in place divided as follows:
101*/30** Mbps for all Pohnpei only internet traffic.
20/20 Mbps for international voice traffic in/out of FSM.
5/5 Mbps additional for Chuuk voice traffic.
4/4 Mbps additional for Kosrae voice traffic.
4/4 Mbps additional for Yap voice traffic.
*download bandwidth
**upload bandwidth
At 3:30 on Tuesday morning, FSMTC turned on an additional 100 Mbps download speed and 30 Mbps upload speed that they acquired from their satellite provider at an additional cost.
Even though the slow connection speeds were not their fault FSMTC has said that they intend to credit Pohnpei customers for their ADSL subscriptions for the number of days that the fiber optic cable is down.