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Nov 29, 2004

Country enters 4th day without internet

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Unless you have a direct satellite connection, by now you would have noticed that something is wrong with Belize’s international communications. Is it bad? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

Patrick Jones, Reporting

Since Friday afternoon this is the message that internet users all over Belize have been getting from their computers as a crucial cable connection between the country and the rest of the world, known as ARCOS 1, was damaged. The blackout also affected telephone users who could not make international calls, banks that could not conduct wire transfers or approve credit card transactions, not to mention hotel and airlines that could not operate their computerized reservations systems.

Patrick Jones

?The arcos network which came on steam in 2002 connects Mexico, Central America, northern South America and the Caribbean by fibre optics. Ten days ago it is believed a ship dragged its anchor through a portion of the cable located near Cancun. Because the system has a built in redundancy much of the traffic was rerouted south and back to Miami. However, on Friday, another ship dragged its anchors through a portion of the cable situated near Colombia. That effectively isolated Central America and Belize.?

Senior Vice President, Edwardo Gandarilla, of New World Network, the U.S. Company that owns the ARCOS system told reporters via teleconference that the outage was unforeseen.

Edwardo Gandarilla, Sr. V.P. New World Network

?This is unprecedented on this network. This network has never ever been out, we have been in operation for almost four years, and this network has never been out. As I told you the designs of the network is a self fulfilling, self healing ring. So no, it has never occurred. We were very proud of our hundred percent service level and of course now we are very humble.?

While technicians are diving to the bottom of the Caribbean sea to assess damage to the cables near both Cancun and Colombia, Gandarilla estimates that if all goes as planned, the ARCOS line should be restored within ten days to three weeks. For BTL, that is not a luxury it can afford, and with thousands of customers breathing down their necks, the company today dispatched top executives to Miami to negotiate with the major U.S. carriers to get Belize back in touch with the rest of the world. Head of Networking Ernesto Torres says the old Earth Station in Belmopan has had to be pressed back into service.

Ernesto Torres, Head of Networking

?So far we have restored a total of two hundred and ten circuits out of two hundred and thirty-five. So we are basically–voice wise–back to normal and we have other circuits that we have going through other mediums which exceed the two thirty-five. So voice wise we are fairly confident that we are more or less taken care of, the restoration exercise for voice traffic internationally, meaning not only to the U.S. but also to abroad. Meaning Europe and other countries.?

But the internet service has been slower to return. Torres says by Tuesday morning that should be rectified as well.

Ernesto Torres

?What we had done initially was that we had our circuits on the earth station just about three months ago. And we were gradually transferring to ARCOS. The plan was once we had completed that transfer to ARCOS, we wanted to take the earth station, use it for redundancy purposes, specifically for purposes like this, but also to give us access to other countries in the Caribbean which we did not have access to through ARCOS. Unfortunately what happened, this break came in just before we could do that.?

The outage has also affected sub carriers like My Cuz, one of the first private companies that have been offering internet through the cable system to customers for over a year. Managing Director Errol Cattouse says he has been buying bandwidth from BTL and when they went down, so did thousands of his customers.

Errol Cattouse, Managing Director, My Cuz

?For the individual person right now its affected all the internet connections anywhere south of Mexico I would have to say. Anywhere south of that is getting affected right now.?

Patrick Jones

“How does this affect your bottom line as a business?”

Errol Cattouse

?Well that?s yet to be determined, and we?ll see what kind of compensation new world has to give and then we?ll see what we can do for our customers at that point.?

But listening to VP of new world, Edwardo Gandarilla, no such compensation will be forthcoming from his company.

Edwardo Gandarilla

?The service level agreement states basically that we are to provide those services and for those services the companies pay us a certain amount of money. If we don?t provide those services the companies don?t pay for those services. So the only liability, which is not a liability, but the only issue that we have to face is the fact of course we will not get the payments that traditionally we would get if when we provide the full service.?

Patrick Jones

?What is this costing New World Network??

Edwardo Gandarilla

?A lot of money. A lot of money. I mean I could tell you that is gong to cost us millions because not only that, we have to find solutions to work with the customers now. Remember there is sense of camaraderie and friendship and understanding within all of us in the telecom industry. We share the same issues, the same problems, the same challenges with our customers, the ultimate customers, the end users. So we all understand what we are going through. And therefore, we always as I said before, we always lend hands in times of protecting or inter connecting with other cables or with other solutions.?

For Maria Otero, Chief Executive of the Radisson Hotel, those solutions can?t come a minute too soon.

Maria Otero, Chief Executive Director

?It?s affecting us a great deal especially since all our business come in through the internet. We have a dedicated internet line that serves our computer systems. So, so far since Friday we have been out of communication with Radisson. We have asked them to write the reservations through fax, however the fax what has happened it has not always work. So if we continue like this for another three or four days, our occupancy for the rest of the month might be jeopardized.?

Patrick Jones

?Dollars and cents how much is this costing the Radisson??

Maria Otero

?We will not know how much it will cost us until all the credit cards are processed. Hopefully at the end all the credit cards that we took with authorization are good. So we don?t really know, it could be thousands of dollars on lost revenue on services that we already provided or it could be that just lost revenue.?

While internet service will be slow to return, head of Information Systems Rafael Marin says customers can still communicate with each other across the BTL network and there should be no loss of emails sent from outside the country since Friday.

Rafael Marin, Head of Information Systems

?You could send email to each other with btl.net, Belize telecom dot net. And other people that have their servers hosted here in Belize, those as well can be accessed.?

Patrick Jones

?But people sending email like from the United States, that email won?t get here. What has happened to those emails? Are those stored somewhere or when the service comes back, am I going to lose everything since Friday??

Rafael Marin

?Well depends. The providers outside just like us will hold the email for a certain period of time. We had it set for three days, we have extended that to seven days, BTL, on our servers, we just changed that this morning. But outside it is similar, depends on how long they have it set to hold it before it cannot deliver it and informs the sender that it wasn?t successful in sending the email.?

Torres says under BTL’s conditions of service, the company cannot be held liable for loss in business, because the damage occurred outside of BTL’s control. He says company executives will be meeting with customers to explain this to them and ask for their patience during this difficult period. At newstime email and internet service had yet to be restored.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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