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Inuvik outage no surprise
Residents take communications down-time in stride

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 3, 2012

When a hook hanging from a helicopter cut a NorthwesTel fibre-optic cable and temporarily cut most means of communication with the outside world last week, most cellphone, data, long-distance calling from land-line phones and Internet went down everywhere in Inuvik at about 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

A helicopter commissioned by NorthwesTel was making a routine fuel delivery to the company's Three-Mile Lake site east of Inuvik when it accidentally cut the cable, said Emily Younker, corporate communications manager for NorthwesTel.

"After the fuel was dropped at the site, the cable and net were still hanging and there was a hook that latched on to a line, which caused the fibre cut," said Younker. "This was an isolated incident. It was due to the malfunction of a helicopter."

Technicians flown in

A team of NorthwesTel technicians were flown in on a charter plane and reached the community late Wednesday night, said Younker. They began repairing the cable immediately and continued into the evening, then resumed working early last Thursday.

Repairs were complete by about 9 a.m. Thursday, said Younker. Communications were restored in most Inuvik offices and residences by 10:30 a.m. last Thursday.

Bank machines, which also went down as a result of the outage, were restored at about the same time.

The communications company would not disclose the company that owns and operates the helicopter in question.

NorthwesTel has launched an internal investigation with the contracted company.

Many Inuvik residents were not surprised by the disruption in communication services.

"It's our yearly outage," joked Brian Richards, sales clerk at Arctic Digital.

Inuvik and the rest of the Beaufort Delta are no strangers to power outages or having communication cut off entirely for short periods of time. What communities do know how to do is cope and be patient.

Ice Wireless cellphones were able to make local calls during last week's outage, said Tom Zubko, president of New North Networks.

However, Ice Wireless cellphones that were outside of the affected zone at the time would not have worked at all.

For the most part, life went on as usual during the outage, with the exception of "cash only" and "no Internet" signs being posted in the entrances to businesses. Some businesses went back to the old way of doing things.

Library workers took to handwriting their records for the day since their system was down.

"It definitely affects our business," said Richards. "Bell is our main source of income right now but with no Internet, I can't do (my job)."

He was fielding phone calls during the outage from curious customers asking what had happened to the phones and Internet.

One of the most frustrating parts about these outages, said Richards, is that the only way to find out what happened is to get in touch with NorthwesTel and they are always a long-distance phone call away.

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