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Call for Ofcom Probe After Another Cable Break Hurts Broadband in Shetland

Saturday, Jan 4th, 2014 (7:27 am) - Score 1,069

The remote Shetland Islands (North of Scotland, UK) have seen local broadband services disrupted again after yet another subsea fibre optic cable break on the SHEFA-2 (Faroese Telecom) link resulted in outages and slow performance for some ISPs but not others, which has triggered calls for Ofcom to investigate network resilience.

The break, which is believed to have been caused by a fishing vessel, is only the latest in a string of similar breaks to hurt the island community (e.g. here and here). A cable repair ship has been called in to fix the damage but weather is an issue and the fix could take another week.


As with previous breaks, the Internet traffic that would normally be carried over SHEFA2 has instead been re-directed via the backup FARICE1 subsea cable (this connects Faroe and Iceland to the United Kingdom). But not all ISPs have the necessary commercial agreements to do the same and as a result some homes and businesses were left with either slow or no connectivity (i.e. those that connect via AOL and TalkTalk’s network), while others suffered only minimal disruption.

Statement from Shetland Telecom

The Shefa 2 cable is broken between Orkney and Shetland. This is not an issue for most ADSL customers because all exchanges outside of Lerwick use BTWholesale regardless of their ISP. BTWholesale provide the backhaul and because they buy a resilient service from Faroese Telecom, these customers automatically either re-route to Torshavn and back to the UK by a different route (via Faroese Telecom and Shetland Telecom network) OR the old microwave link.

In Lerwick, the situation is a little more complicated. There is another ‘wholesale’ provider. This wholesale provider has chosen not buy a resilient service and does not have the option of switching to an alternative route. Some ISPs use this wholesale provider (for broadband and voice). Customers of these ISPs in Lerwick) are likely to be experiencing complete or partial loss of service.

I don’t have a list of which ISPs use resilient backhaul services but I can confirm that customers of BT, Faroese Telecom, Shetland Telecom and Shetland Broadband are unaffected by the cable break.

The situation has caused local Shetland MSP Tavish Scott (Scottish Liberal Democrats) to request that the UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, consider investigating the issue of network resilience on the Shetland Islands in the hope of giving local people and businesses better protection against such outages.

But broadband is not yet covered by a proper and legal Universal Service Obligation (USO), which could limit Ofcom’s ability to intervene. Similarly the regulator might well consider such commercial arrangements to reside outside of its scope. Meanwhile the affected ISPs would perhaps argue that serving such remote communities is already very expensive.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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