Digicel Restores Phone Services In Tonga’s Ha’apai Islands

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Company chartered 6 flights to transport crew and relief workers

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Jan. 16, 2014) – In a rapid response, after Cyclone Ian cut off communications in Ha‘apai on Saturday, Digicel-Tonga Ltd. has put in place temporary solutions to get its mobile phone network restored in Ha'apai.

Digicel chartered six flights to Ha‘apai over the last three-days to get their crew and relief workers over as swiftly as possible.

New Zealand’s Chathams Pacific aircraft carried out the flights from January 13-15. The first flight early on Monday morning January 13 took the repair team, and equipment. Digicel also carried essential people from other organisations at its own cost.

CEO Jack Bourke they did not have the cost yet in regards to the damage to their network but a sizeable amount was spent to charter the flights with the final flight carrying Crown Prince Tupouto‘a ‘Ulukalala and others involved in aid relief from churches and government, on January 15.

He said the damage was mainly to their equipment and Digicel's retail store was also destroyed. "We will require experts to come in to calculate the extent of the damage," he said.

"The damage in Ha’apai is horrific and very sad and contrary to comments we have been seen out in the press about Tonga not needing aid. We think as a business and personally there is a lot of help needed out there in Ha‘apai."

Restoration

Jack said Digicel's temporary solutions will keep the network running for a while.

He said structurally the towers are 30m high and were engineered to be cyclone proof but all the cabling was damaged. "We put in temporary cabling, fuel and our generators are working now. …Over the next few-days our team will go there again and restore the whole network."

In Ha‘apai Digicel got the towers connected in Pangai and Foa so people could connect.

However, he said while the electric power was still down people could not make phone calls unless they had power for recharging their phones. So Digicel deployed four generators in four different places with two in Pangai and two in Foa. "We then put 100 charging stations so people can bring their phones, laptops and tablets to be charged," he said.

On January 15, Digicel put three Wi-Fi hot spots, two in Pangai and one in Foa to get people connected online and had increased its capacity to their Ha‘apai network because it was congested and enable more people to call to and from the island locally and internationally.

"The true hero apart from those that have been involved in the aid relief efforts, us, churches and the community is Chathams. We had some challenges on Saturday trying to locate an aircraft that had the ability to land in Ha‘apai because of its short landing strip and was able to take freight and passengers in a short time. We went across the region including Australia, New Zealand and PNG to find an aircraft and we were lucky that Chathams came to our rescue. We are extremely thankful to Craig Emeny and his business."

Digicel took over 100 people and over 10,000 tonnes of relief aid to Ha‘apai including the Prime Minister Lord Tu‘ivakano who visited on Monday.

Donation

Jack said there were many months ahead of restoration work in the island group.

"Internationally, if people want to help they can visit Digicel Mobile Money and transfer money from New Zealand and Australia, USA or anywhere in the world by just going into one of Digicel's agents or online. For locals people can text for one pa’anga the word "Ha'apai" to 7828 which will go directly to a Tonga Red Cross fund.

"We have seen an overwhelming response in the last two to three-days but we need the media's help to get that message out there," he said.

Meanwhile, the singing competition Digicel Stars starts tonight with 10 finalists in Nuku‘alofa.

Everything received from Digicel Stars with people texting in to vote for their favourite singers would be redirected to help Ha‘apai. "Everybody is getting together and combining resources to help," he said.

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