For several hours yesterday across the country and the region, thousands were offline, after two major internet providers, Flow and Digicel, suffered massive outages because of an issue with a fibre optic cable out at sea. As a result, broadband internet customers in T&T, Barbados and St Vincent and the Grenadines and other neighbouring islands experienced outages caused by a disruption of an international cable link via Curacao.
This resulted in many students being unable to attend online classes, businesses hosting virtual meetings were unable to connect and simple transactions in banks and businesses were affected. Like many parts of the world, Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean are now more dependent than ever on efficient and effective connectivity.
Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby Dolly confirmed that reports came from around the country about students unable to access virtual classrooms, it virtually handicapped the process of online learning. Given that this is now the only way that students have access to schooling makes it imperative that the service providers find a way to ensure that this country does not find itself in this position going forward.
What makes a backup plan more an imperative is that virtual learning is set to continue into 2021, except for students in Standard 5 and Forms 4 to 6 who will return to their physical classroom sin February 2021. This means that for the remainder of the school population, virtual classes are what will be required. For this to work a reliable system is critical.
Online learning has come with many challenges for children and parents across the country/ Many parents are concerned that their children are not getting the best education at home in front of a computer or tablet or in some cases a phone. There are also those who must walk miles just to get the electricity they need to charge the devices.
It’s been a learning experience all around which was compounded on Monday morning when according to the Telecommunications Authority of T&T (TATT) the problem of internet connectivity arose due to the disruption of an international cable link to Curacao. It might be days before service is fully restored which means that disruptions may continue in some parts of the country.
While classes were affected yesterday there was also the wider impact on business and productivity. Employees working from home were unable to get internet access, which meant hours of productivity were lost.
President of the Arima Business Association Reval Chattergoon lamented that “it is disheartening to know that in an instant all the communication to the outside world and even internally went back to the 1960s.”
Like many others, Chattergoon is advocating for a backup plan be put in place “because it is very embarrassing what we went through.” He said the business community could not contact clients and suppliers.
Truth be told without the internet it seems as if we are living in the Dark Ages. It is too important a tool for education, commerce, and daily living, so contingency plans must be put in place to ensure that what happened on Monday does not happen again.
That outage lasted only a few hours, but it felt like a lifetime. Imagine if it was longer.