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

Saturday, January 4th, 2014 (7:27 am) - Score 1,045

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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Mark Jackson
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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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15 Responses
  1. Avatar FibreFred says:

    Isn’t this just an ISP problem ? They choose to buy from a wholesaler who has no resilience , something they should have checked out to be fair. If its a problem they can switch to BT ? Not sure why Ofcom need to be involved?

    1. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Yes two links not one , hence they are not affected ? Maybe you should read the article ?

    2. Avatar CrazyLazy says:

      I did maybe you should read the other links in the article and what i directed you to for an idea of how long it takes your precious BT to switch over to that second link.

    3. Avatar FibreFred says:

      I will stick with this article thanks and the quoted words of Shetland telecom


    4. Avatar CrazyLazy says:

      The article contains a link to the story i mentioned, so nope you are not sticking to the news item either.

      To switch over to the second link takes 2 weeks NO MATTER who the provider is because thats how long it takes BT.

    5. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Sigh, you don’t know this at all. You are referring to older articles one from March 2013, almost a year ago anything could have changed since.

      Please stay on topic with this article which as much as it pains you puts BT in a good light which is why you are here to rag them down (and failing)

      This article shows Shetland Telecom saying those using BT Wholesale are unaffected does it not? Not sure what you are trying to disprove here, the article says it all.

      Finally as you seem unable or unwilling to read:-

      “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.”

      “customers automatically” , not manually, automatic

    6. Avatar CrazyLazy says:

      No i do know that and is is relevant as it is content within the news item. The same news item and QUOTED CONTENT you want to stick to.

      It is just because BT are once again slow it upsets your rampage of defending them.

    7. Avatar FibreFred says:

      I don’t need to defend them, this current article speaks for itself.

      Your need/craving to troll and run down BT on the other hand, that is something you just must satisfy so.. troll away.

    8. Avatar CrazyLazy says:

      Im not trolling you said BT were better i simply pointed out the part of the story which tells us in that area its previously taken BT 5+ days to switch over to the second link. If you have an issue with that i suggest you speak to the writer of the story rather than childishly stamping your feed and calling people trolls as you always resort to doing.

      It is not my fault BT are slow.

  2. Avatar MikeW says:

    How else do these “cheap-as-chips” service providers manage to provide such a cheap service? It is by not investing in the infrastructure that provides cover in the event of critical outages.

    Working to proper 5-9’s availability (99.99999% availability) means duplicated equipment and duplicated routes, and is at the very core of BT’s voice capability.

    Broadband has no such requirement, though it obviously benefits where it shares the same core network as the voice component.

    I suspect that the request to Ofcom is really a request as to whether a) there should be availability requirements for broadband, and b) whether the SPs are meeting the current voice requirements. The story isn’t clear whether TalkTalk’s voice service is affected, for example.

    1. Avatar Gadget says:

      I agree Mike, but perhaps it should be made clear to customers of an ISP exactly what availability of service they are purchasing…. consumer broadband or business broadband and they can make an informed decision. If you are really intending to run a business the consumer must decide what level of service to purchase, “cheap-as-chips” broadband, “business-grade” broadband or even a proper dedicated private circuit with the SLA and SLG guarantees. It seems in the past couple of years that the argument is being made “I have decided to run a business from home so I must have xx level of service” rather than “I can get/afford yy level of service” so I CAN run a business from home

    2. Avatar Ignitionnet says:

      5 9s availability is 99.999% uptime, Mike.

  3. Avatar dragoneast says:

    It’s not easy though. I have advertised business-grade broadband, with advertised resilience – and a price to match. And (not because of the local loop, which is substandard but consistent and reliable) the consistency and reliability of the service is much poorer than that achieved by my local mass market compatriots. The Shetland example is an extreme case, but the usual broadband state seems to me to be down to luck as much as judgement. In that case going for the cheapest you can get away with is probably not such a bad option, but you should (as always in life) keep your eyes wide open. We don’t of course when it suits us.

  4. Avatar julie says:

    i’m sitting in shetland using bt’s service and getting slower speeds than dail up….go figure

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