The Basslink cable connecting Tasmania to mainland Australia has been cut. Repair crews don't yet know exactly where the fault is, the repair bill is projected to be "phenomenal", and full power and internet connectivity isn't expected to be fully restored until May. Customers of iiNet and Internode in particular are struggling, with services like Steam and peer-to-peer downloading throttled or blocked completely over the weekend.
The major Basslink undersea power and communications cable that connects Tasmania to the Australian mainland will be cut until mid-March, while the company investigates and fixes a failure in its electricity transmission capacity. That'll leave Tasmanians with severely reduced connectivity to the internet for nearly six weeks, although contingencies are in place.
After Tasmanian IT minister Michael Ferguson stepped in over the weekend, iiNet/Internode parent company TPG pledged to order more bandwidth from Telstra for its customers, through the secondary Telstra-owned cable that is currently Tasmania's only wired link to Australia and the rest of the world. That cable doesn't have anywhere near the capacity of Basslink, though, so internet restriction and slower speeds will be a fact of life for Tasmanian internet users in the months to come.
Stephen Reid, an iiNet customer, created Is Basslink Fixed, a website that regularly reports the results of a speed test on his 100/40Mbps fibre to the premises NBN connection in Kingston south of Hobart. Over the weekend, it was reporting speeds a fraction of those available to an equivalent connection in Melbourne, and even today his link is wildly variable, sometimes falling to one per cent of his purchased plan speed. There may be enough capacity on Telstra's cable for off-peak use, but peak periods are seeing serious congestion.
DVD rentals are filling the gap left by Netflix and iTunes. But it's worse than that for gamers, with Steam downloads being blocked entirely by iiNet and Internode over the weekend and service restored only after more capacity was purchased. Peer-to-peer downloads, not only used for BitTorrent file sharing but also for game updates by Blizzard Entertainment, creators of popular online games like World of Warcraft and Starcraft 2, are reportedly still blocked entirely by iiNet and Internode.
Power is just as much of a problem for Tasmania as internet access is. 200 diesel generators have been shipped to the island, and old -- and reportedly unreliable -- gas-fired turbines are being brought back online to help meet residential demand. Around half of Tasmania's power demands are being met by the state's renewable hydroelectric dams, and wind contributes another quarter. The final 25 per cent, though, would normally be met by imported power from the mainland via Basslink, and is currently being contributed by gas and diesel power.
There's no quick fix for Basslink, and no quick fix for Tasmania -- this situation will likely be ongoing for months. But online forums like Whirlpool show iiNet and Internode being especially hard hit, and several customers have already cancelled their services and turned to competitors running on the Telstra network. Some Telstra customers, too, are complaining of speed "brownouts" and dropouts during peak times.
With the Telstra cable's capacity being limited by its age and by Telstra's own wholesale pricing, and TPG reportedly delivering only 60 per cent of its required bandwidth to customers, it's almost certain that there won't be enough to go around. The government, too, is very disappointed in TPG's actions. Telstra is confident its cable can supply Tasmania with "sufficient capacity" for home and business users, but modern conveniences like Netflix will likely be out of the question for most users until Basslink's connectivity is restored.
Are you living in Tasmania and struggling with limited or inconsistent internet speeds? Tell us in the comments.