Aliant investigating cut cables

Service has been restored for approximately 255,000 Aliant Inc. customers who went without service for nearly 15 hours earlier this month after the telco discovered network-critical fibre was cut in two eastern provinces.

According to Lynn Coveyduck, manager of public affairs for Aliant in Halifax, the company was informed at approximately 11 p.m. NST on June 8 of two incidents of cut fibre in the Avalon Peninsula in the eastern part of Newfoundland, an area that includes St. John’s.

According to Coveyduck, the first fibre location was home to a cable that enables all Aliant services for the eastern part of the island. The second location to be disrupted was the back-up fibre connection for the first cable.

“In this particular situation in Newfoundland, the first cable that was cut was buried,” Coveyduck told ComputerWorld Canada. “The (person or people) would have had to have gone down a couple of feet just to get access to it.”

Nearly three hours later at around 2 a.m. AST on June 9, Aliant discovered an additional fibre cut in a rural area of Nova Scotia, which left approximately 5,000 customers without access to services including emergency and 911.

The fibre cuts come less than two months since 4,200 Aliant employees took to the picket lines after both parties failed to reach a compromise on a new collective agreement. According to the Atlantic Communications and Technical Workers Union (ACTWU), Aliant’s offers to employees in terms of job security, pensions and health care were insufficient. Aliant and its employees have yet to reach an agreement.

According to Coveyduck, the telco has experienced around 20 similar incidents since the beginning of the strike. She said that the timeline of the events earlier this month suggest an inside operation.

“From our perspective certainly, our belief is that these cable cuts were deliberate and clearly the people who were responsible had knowledge of the location of the cables as well as their importance to the network,” she said. “We are obviously very concerned because people would not have had access to emergency services. Our real concern there is obviously public safety.”

The ACTWU has firmly denied allegations that union members played any role in the tampering of the network cables. However, according to the Aliant Forum, a Web chat board for striking Aliant employees found on the ACTWU Web site, it appears that even those on the inside aren’t sure of the union’s innocence.

According to a post from “who cares” on June 10, “At first I assumed it could have been anyone, but after details were disclosed it seems more likely it was indeed an inside job (seeing as the main and backup to the main cables were both cut almost simultaneously in two different areas).”

Still, according to other posts such as one from “Captain Jack” on June 11, there are several people that had knowledge of not only the whereabouts, but the importance of the cut fibre cables.

“God help us all if the local police are so incompetent during their ‘investigation’ that they overlook the very fact that there are many, many people who have working knowledge of fibre optics other then the unionized workers. To me, a professional and legitimate investigation would encompass all people associated with Aliant…The media, Aliant managers, the police and many members of the public have already made up their minds that striking union members did this.”

Within days of the Newfoundland and Nova Scotia incidents, the ACTWU along with the Communications, Energy and Paperwork Union (CEP) sent out a media release informing the public that it has petitioned the Canadian Radio and Television Commission to not let Aliant “off the hook” and force the telco to pay rebates to subscribers who complain of poor service during the strike. Both the CEP and ACTWU stated that while Aliant maintains everything is running fine despite the strike, the telco is “seeking CRTC approval to forego its obligation to pay rebates to customers suffering from poor service.”