Elon Musk helping restore internet to Tonga - GulfToday

Elon Musk helping restore internet services in Tonga

Elon Musk

Entrepreneur and business magnate Elon Musk attends a Tesla meeting. File photo

Entrepreneur Elon Musk is helping reconnect Tonga to the internet after a volcanic eruption and tsunami cut off the South Pacific nation more than three weeks ago, according to officials, while repairs on an undersea cable are proving more difficult than first thought.

The tsunami severed the sole fiber-optic cable that connects Tonga to the rest of the world and most people remain without reliable connections.

A top official in neighbouring Fiji tweeted that a team from Musk's SpaceX company was in Fiji establishing a station that would help reconnect Tonga through SpaceX satellites.


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SpaceX runs a network of nearly 2,000 low-orbit satellites called Starlink, which provides internet service to remote places around the world.

Fiji Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum tweeted about the SpaceX work, saying the volcano's shockwave "shattered Tonga’s internet connection, adding days of gut-wrenching uncertainty to disaster assessments.”

The crisis response team personnel make a damage assessment operation in Nuku’alofa, Tonga. File/AP

A spokeswoman for Sayed-Khaiyum said on Wednesday she was waiting for more information about the Starlink project before providing further details. SpaceX did not respond to requests for comment.

Musk had earlier shown interest in Tonga's plight. Less than a week after the eruption, he asked on Twitter: "Could people from Tonga let us know if it is important for SpaceX to send over Starlink terminals?”

New Zealand politician Dr. Shane Reti wrote to Musk asking him to help provide a Starlink connection. After the reports from Fiji emerged, Reti tweeted: "Very pleased. Elon Musk providing satellite to Tonga."

Meanwhile Samiuela Fonua, the chairperson at Tonga Cable Ltd., the state-owned company that owns the crucial undersea cable, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that repairs to the cable might not be completed until the end of next week.

Fonua said the good news was that the crew aboard the repair ship CS Reliance had managed to locate both ends of the damaged cable. The bad news, he said, was the damage was extensive and his company didn't have enough cable aboard the ship to replace a mangled section of more than 80 kilometers (50 miles).

An officer of the response team assesses damage to Atata island, in Nuku’alofa, Tonga. File/AP

Fonua said there was extra cable aboard the Reliance that was owned by other companies, and Tonga Cable was hoping to secure agreements with those companies to use it.

A UN team has provided small satellites and other telecommunications support to boost connectivity and communications, said spokesperson Stephane Dujarric, and more equipment was on the way.

As well as dealing with the aftermath of the tsunami, which killed three people in Tonga and destroyed dozens of homes, the nation of 105,000 is also in the midst of a two-week lockdown after experiencing its first outbreak of the coronavirus, which may have been brought in by foreign military crews aboard ships and planes that delivered aid.

Dujarric said that UNICEF had sent 15,000 rapid test kits and that the World Health Organization was sending 5,000 PCR tests.

Agence France-Presse




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