A downed tree caused internet, phone and TV customers in Northwest B.C. to lose service on Feb. 3 (File photo)

A downed tree caused internet, phone and TV customers in Northwest B.C. to lose service on Feb. 3 (File photo)

Downed tree knocks out internet and phones in Northwest

Damaged hydro lines burned through fibre optic cables just east of Terrace

A fibre break east of Terrace led to a large percentage the Northwest, including Smithers, Telkwa, the Hazeltons, Terrace, Kitimat, Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert, to lose internet and phone services last Saturday night.

The outage affected Telus and CityWest customers. Some TV services were also affected.

CityWest CEO Chris Marett confirmed that the break was caused when a tree fell on high voltage hydro lines, damaging the fibre lines which run underneath them. Those lines carry traffic for both companies.

“When the hydro lines broke, they burned through the fibre lines … ,” explained Marett.

Most of the internet, TV, and phone data provided to customers in the North rides along that fibre line. While portions of it are buried next to Highway 16, some of it is strung along telephone poles between Terrace in Prince George, according to CityWest.

Liz Sauvé from Telus said some customers reported still having wireless service, suggesting the loss was sporadic. She added that about 5,000 home phone and internet customers had service disruptions.

Service was lost at approximately 7:20 p.m. on Saturday and was restored at approximately 2:30 a.m. Marett said repair crews had to wait for the hydro lines to be fixed before work could commence on the fibre lines.

“In my 25 years of experience, I’ve never seen a main transport cable knocked out like that,” said Bart Kuntz, vice president of outside plant for CityWest, in a media release.

Sauvé said she was also not familiar with any similar incidents. She added this fibre cable supports service for the whole area, which is why areas both east and west were impacted.

All cell sites need a wired connection so that they can connect to the network and that connection is usually fibre, which is why cell service went down according to Sauvé.

“Our crews were immediately on scene and as soon as Hydro had ensured the area was safe and there were no live power lines near our fibre, our crews began repairing the badly damaged fibre and were able to fully restore service in the very early morning. It was quite a feat considering the challenging weather conditions they faced that evening,” said Sauvé in an email.

In January, both the federal and provincial government announced that they would be investing a combined $45.4-million to building 3.5 million metres of sub-sea fibre optic cable — the Connect the Coast project — along B.C.’s coast. Once completed, this cable will provide a backup means of delivering internet service to some of the Northwest. Marett said Saturday night’s outage is an example of why a second fibre line is so important.

“I was only a matter of time before this happened,” he said. “There’s no redundancy in the North, and once that line is cut, everyone is affected.

“Once the Connect the Coast project is built, we’ll have immediate redundancy.”

Some CityWest customers in Gossen, Kleanza, and Usk were still without services Sunday afternoon, but technicians are on-site working to restore services.