WINONA, MN—Hiawatha Broadband Communications (HBC) customers experienced a service outage early Saturday morning, the impacts of which lasted through the day. The outage did not affect local communications, a sure sign that the problem was not in southeastern Minnesota.
In fact, workers reconstructing portions of Highway I-94 through St. Paul and Minneapolis shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday morning cut one of the major trunk fiber lines leading to the Internet central collection point for most of Minnesota.
When the break occurred, 25 percent of HBC customers experienced immediate problems receiving messages from or getting messages to sources outside this area. While nearly all customer services were restored by noon, there were some individual customer services to address throughout the afternoon.
When the internal alarms sounded early Saturday, HBC personnel immediately began to diagnose the source while, at the same time, transferring customers to backbone legs that were not affected by the outage. HBC uses multiple paths to reach Internet central points of service, allowing customers to be moved from one to another in times of trouble.
Technicians worked through the night to make the transfers and spent the day Saturday monitoring and balancing service loads, although anytime one of the major backbone arteries is severed, it results in sporadic service interruptions and or slowdowns.
When the cut was repaired at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, the transfer process began anew as customers were moved back to the line that had been severed.
“We apologize for the outage,” said HBC Vice President for Corporate Development Dan Pecarina. “While many Minnesota Internet users were completely without service, we worked very hard to keep HBC patrons connected. Ironically, we had spent last week working on protocols to be used in such circumstances because much as we would like them to be neither technology nor the Internet is perfect and cuts and failures do occur.”
In this case, a trunk line containing thousands of fiber strands the thickness of a human hair was severed and putting it back together requires splicing all the broken strands. “That’s an enormous, time-consuming job,” pointed out Pecarina.
This is the fourth road construction related incident affecting Internet service in the past month. Three weeks ago, a fiber cut in Eau Claire affected 2,000 customers and the roundabout construction in Winona has twice hit HBC cable. With network backbones built with ringed technology designed to self-heal in the case of a fiber cut, HBC and its vendor partners are working toward a quick resolution to protect against future outages.