Network sabotage brings down Aliant service

The vandalism to Aliant’s network that left thousands without phone and Internet service in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia Tuesday night was a deliberate act by those who knew what they were doing, the carrier said.

A cut pair

of fibre-optic cables brought down service at about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night, Aliant said, and employees were dispatched to repair them about an hour later. About 250,000 people, or about half of Newfoundland’s population, were affected, as were 911 services in St. John’s. Another 5,000 customers in Nova Scotia also experienced service disruptions. The RCMP are investigating the incident.

Aliant, which is in the middle of a protracted labour dispute with about 4,200 employees, said it had managed to restore most of the service by about 7:00 a.m. Wednesday. At press time, only a couple of small communities, including Holyrood on the East Coast of Newfoundland, were continuing to feel the effects of the outage.

Cables were cut in two separate locations. In Newfoundland, a connection to the main network and the backup was cut, and in Nova Scotia, where another piece of the fibre-optic cable was severed.

“”This would have to be someone who knew the way telecommunications work,”” said Aliant spokeswoman Brenda Reid. “”For example, in the second cut, it was an aerial cable, but there were 10 cables up that pole. Two of them provided redundancy for the network, and those were the two that were cut.””

Ervan Cronk, chief negotiator for Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union members on strike against Aliant, said he had received no calls from the carrier or the police but noted how media reports had already made links been the vandalism and the labour distpute.

“”I’ve gotten a few calls, for sure, and they’ve been less than subtle,”” he said. “”It’s been pointing the finger directly at our members.””

Aliant workers hit the picket lines on April 26 after the union and the carrier failed to reach an agreement. About 1,800 management employees have taken on the jobs of the striking employees, who haven’t had a contract since Nova Scotia’s four telecommunications providers merged in 1999.

Cronk said the union has been warning about deteriorating phone and Internet service since the strike began.

“”I’ve had lots of cases where my phone has gone dead in the middle of a phone call, and it has nothing to do with a bad battery or poor signal,”” he said, adding whole sections of some cities have been without some services. “”It had nothing to do with any vandalism, it had to do with incompetent managers trying to do the work.””

Reid, however, insisted Aliant had the appropriate resources in place.

“”These are management and supervisory employees. Most of them came up through the ranks and have the expertise and experience, so they were able to get the repairs done quickly.””

Randy Smith, manager of Techni-Services Ltd. in St. John’s, said both Internet and phone service at his burglar and fire alarm systems company was affected by the disruption, but the firm immediately switched over to a backup service provider, whom he declined to name.

“”We were prepared,”” he said. “”But we’re not like every other company out there.””

Judy English, president of Newfoundland Personnel and Staffing, said her firm’s Internet service was out but had been restored by Wednesday. This was the first outage she had experienced since the strike began, she said. “”It has not affected us at all, thank goodness.””

Cronk said it was unlikely the crisis would make Aliant any more likely to resume negotiations with its workers.

“”It’s going to delay the process and make it more complicated. And I think most of our members see it that way,”” he said. “”If it has any kind of result, it probably works at losing any kind of support that we have from the public at large.””

Reid said Aliant has video surveillance for much of its network and has hired additional security since the strike began, but with cables running across the province, it would be difficult to keep watch over everything.


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