Internet trouble in New Caledonia until 1 March

Photo JH

Photo JH

Our VoIP (voice over IP) has been strange lately. People can’t hear us when they call us.  They can’t hear us when we call them. We dial a number and we land somewhere else, another someone we happen to know, but not the person we dialed.  It’s the last person we dialed. Impossible to call someone new.

I called our provider on Monday:

“Hello, we have a problem with our VoIP.”

“Yup.”

“It’s a known problem?”

“Yup. And we don’t know when it is going to be fixed.”

“You don’t?”

“Nope.”

Pause.

“I know it’s not funny,” he offered by way of apology, “but we don’t know when it is going to be fixed. Could be a couple of days. Could be a couple of weeks.”

“Hmmm … Did you get new modems?”

“Yep, they’re here.”

“Should I bring you my modem? And pick up a new one?”

“Yeah, you could try that.”

“But it’s not going to fix the problem?”

“Nope, but it won’t hurt. It’ll make the line a little more reliable, but it won’t fix your problem.”

“OK, I’ll stop by at 5 pm.”

I kept thinking to myself, “Is this all you’ve got? Really? Houston, we have a problem. And all you can say is, ‘Yep, and who knows when it will be fixed?'” Really? Thank goodness this company is not in charge of national security, health or education. Note, he says the problem is being experienced by all the providers in Nouméa (they just haven’t isolated the source).

I stopped by at 5 pm. The modem wasn’t ready (though they said it would be – oops). I waited. I got the modem. His advice? Use Google Talk to speak with those abroad (not Skype or the phone). I guess that part is helpful. Why Google Talk would be more effective is beyond me … we’re talking the same lines, here. And remember, it’s the same set up: you connect one phone to the wall for local calls and one phone to the modem for VoIP calls. Yep, count them. Two phones. Last year we had one phone to do both, but that didn’t work out too well, so they said to use two phones. (What developed country am I living in again?)

So I set up the new modem at home. I connect the two phones. I’m usually okay at tech. Guess what. We have a line. We can make calls. We have ADSL. But no WIFI. Nope. Nada.

That was Monday night.

Tuesday morning I called them back.  (24-hour service does not exist here; we’re only a few hundred thousand people in New Caledonia, and only about 25,000 of us have broadband.)

“Oh yeah, you have to delete the wifi connections in your phones and tablets and they’ll reinstall correctly.”

“Okay, thanks,” I say, and hang up.

I try that. Nada. Niets. Niente.

Checking out the modem (again), I notice a new password on the back of the modem. Bingo. New password entered on the phones, laptop and tablet. And we’re in service. For the Internet.

Tonight I had a conference call with Paris to discuss several projects I’m working on. I work a lot by phone with Paris. VoIP is kind of important (as it is to a significant client base, confessed my provider). I asked  my provider if they would be sending out a note informing their clientele of the problem, its status, and to confirm that they were doing their level best to fix it.

“Um, we can tell our management that clients would like this, but we don’t know what management will do,” came the response.

Inspires a whole heck of a lot of confidence, doesn’t it? I should tell you we are paying 6,300 CFP (€53 or A$68) a month to have spotty VoIP, frustrated colleagues abroad, and no knowledge of when everything will clear up.

So how did the call go tonight? Cut in and out, whole paragraphs left unheard, your usual.

Imagine my pleasure when I read in the local paper yesterday that  all sorts of “micro cuts” and full network interruptions have been happening in Caledonia since last weekend. They’re calling it a bit of a “Digital Butterfly Effect“. A repeater cable, Sea-Me-We3, is in default in Indonesia. This cable passes through Perth, Western Australia, and carries data to and from Europe. Its malfunction has a significant impact on the Internet connection for users in New Caledonia. The solution? To reroute via a cable to the United States. A fully functioning Internet connection is scheduled for 1 March.

Could this be the source of all our trouble (keep in mind that our VoIP problems have been going on all month)? The provider was not all that keen to explain the source of the problem, but my guess is the paper got a hold of a part of it. Good thing we get the paper, is all I say. Now, to hold off business calls until March …

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Drugs in New Caledonia? Try cocaine in the mail …

Most people I know, when they Google New Caledonia, decide within seconds that it is a tropical paradise. They are not wrong. Most, also, are, or become, insanely jealous when they learn that I live on this tiny island and work for Paris. It is 6 degrees below freezing (Celsius) in Paris at the moment, while we are island hopping on the weekends. I understand their jealousy. I do.

But as I’ve said several times before already, all is not paradise in New Caledonia. Our cost of living is on average 34% higher than in Europe (and food is 65% higher);  our chances of dying in a car accident are four times higher here than in France (more on this in a future post); racial tension is bubbling as we crawl towards an independence vote; and we are living in a time warp.

On top of that, we have record marital and family violence (remind me to tell you the story about the man who chopped off his wife’s arm with a saber a few weeks ago), alcohol problems in the young (in particular, but not limited to), a dose of homophobia equal to what the States knew in the 1980s, and rising numbers of robberies and rape (also more on this in a future post).

But among my friends here, we relativize things. They all say, “Everywhere has its problems. New Caledonia is no different. Well. At least we don’t have drugs here.”

Guess what, front-page news. Nothing too serious. But little did you know, until perhaps today, you could mail-order cocaine here in New Caledonia.

Cocaine in the mailTurns out, a 30-something has been receiving, using and selling coke (13 grams of it, delivered to his home in a windowed envelope – direct from France) in Nouméa since November. And the funny thing is, if it weren’t for the agents at a tollbooth (a tollbooth, people, not the post office), this enterprising young man would still be at it. Why not? If you can’t get it on the island, why not order it on line (or by email)? Goodness knows, it’s probably cheaper.

I love that he received the cocaine in envelopes, addressed to a fake name (but at the correct address). I love that he sold the coke to some of his friends (a university professor, a fireman, others, upstanding citizens all) at CFP 25,000 (€210) per gram – who he asked to pay him by check (let’s not make this super easy to trace – checks still come with names and addresses on them, I’m afraid).

But how was he found? Passing through a tollbooth with some dried grass and a plastic bag of powder visible in his car. Perhaps the invisibility cloak slipped?

So, friends, drugs probably aren’t really here yet, but then you, and your local postal worker may never know. They were kind of here in 2000 and 2012, but who’s counting?

Breaking news tonight is about our local SWAT team (watch the short video to see how SWAT-like they are) intervening to secure an area for local pot growers who had been displaced by fires that are raging in our southern parts … The question is will the marijuana be seized and the growers fined, will the fires be put out, and will we tomorrow, resume our life in paradise?

Cyber attack in New Caledonia

Unbeknownst to us, cyber attacks happen all of the time, every day, everywhere in the world – even in the South Pacific. Earlier this week we were the victims of a cyber attack, along with 650 others, in New Caledonia. Our phone and Internet went down shortly after we received an email from our Internet provider alerting us to a cyber attack in progress.

Gulp. Cyber attack? Here?

Really?

I went through a strange and horrible minute when I realised I was completely disconnected from the rest of the world. Being on what feels like the very edge of the planet (both in terms of distance and time difference) can feel pretty intense at times. This is softened in my mind by a connection that puts me in touch with literally hundreds of people (or just one deeply loved family member) inside seconds. When that connection goes down, you realise anything can happen anywhere in the world, and you won’t know about it – until a letter washes up in a bottle on a beach, or a boat arrives, or a plane flies in with news from abroad.

Normally, phone and Internet going down should not be that big a deal in a country that goes to bed at 20.00-21.00. Honestly. Everyone is sleeping, right? But in my case, I often work at night and on line at that. The night of the attack,  I had a call scheduled with Paris and content to put on line for the organisation I work for – so I needed both phone and Internet access.

No go.

Eventually I was able to use IM (instant messaging) on my iPhone and later access the web via 3G to cancel the phone call and alert my colleagues to the fact that I could not access the network.

The next day I went straight to the provider (everyone does everything in person here). A long line awaited me. What amazed me was that the line was silent. No one was sharing information. They all waited patiently for their turn in the queue, obtained some kind of information and left.

I couldn’t help it. I broke the silence. I asked how many of them were there because they didn’t have Internet or phone. All of them. How many brought in their modems? Most of them. Who knew if there had been any change to status since early this morning? No one knew (among the waiting). I joked that we needed a large screen announcing status, when things were expected to improve, and what we could do. At this point, the staff started communicating with everyone in line, “Internet was restored 5 minutes ago. Only these modems (holds up a white, rectangular modem) have been attacked.”

Which was great.

When I got up to my customer service agent, I communicated everything I knew to everyone in line behind me. “You’ll need to pick up a new VOIP phone. They will give it to you free of charge. You’ll need to have 2 phones connected to receive and make local, VOIP and international calls. Internet appears to be working. You do not need to bring in your modem.”

Before I left, I asked the question no one seemed to want to ask, “And if this doesn’t work, what do we do? Come back?” The answer was yes. But they hoped we wouldn’t be back.

“And if we have to come back, can we expect tea and coffee? A free month of access for our troubles?”

Laughter filled the room and my agent told me she would ask her director what could be done to recompense clients that had missed work, etc., during the lockdown.

Suffice it to say that we got things working with the new set-up later Wednesday morning. For 2 days.

Friday afternoon, wifi and VOIP went down again. I called and left a message with tech support.

Who needs wifi and VOIP, you ask. Well, we use wifi for our phones and iPad – and VOIP for international calls. Turns out Friday night, I had another call scheduled with Paris (the same one that was missed on the Tuesday). It was cancelled at the last minute, but I had another important call to make. Skype wasn’t working (doesn’t work on 3G), IM wasn’t working. So my friend called my mobile from Paris – I shudder to think of how much that call cost!

Saturday morning tech support returned my call just as I was trying to reach them again. Turns out of the 650 modems that had come under attack, now 180 of them were experiencing problems due to an update gone awry. We were one of them. So after I gave them my landline number and IP address, they were able to reconfigure the modem from a distance – and everything worked again 5 minutes later.

I asked the provider if they planned to inform the 180 affected users that they needed to call CAN’L and communicate their details so their modems could be reconfigured.

“No, they seem to be contacting us.”

“But you are closing at noon today (it was Saturday), right?”

“We don’t know, at this rate.”

“How many people do you have working on this?”

“Five technicians.”

“Do you think it will all be fixed soon?”

“We hope so.”

So do I – for their sake, for ours, and for those who may still be experiencing trouble.

So what is all this about?  Turns out hackers in Eastern Europe had exploited a vulnerability in 650 modems here in New Caledonia – and were able to overtake our phone lines to make phone calls to Lithuania and Latvia. The local phone company hadn’t noticed a problem until our Internet provider contacted them. Astronomical phone bills will apparently be covered by the Internet provider

What it takes to set up house in New Caledonia

I hadn’t forgotten how challenging it can be to “set up house” in New Caledonia. Before arriving on the island, I knew it would take up to 3 weeks to get Internet access, and to secure that we would need a bank account.

The morning after we arrived (falling into bed at 1 in the morning after 4 days of travel), we were at the bank at 9.00 to request an appointment. We were told to come back with the following papers for both my husband and I before they could consider giving us an appointment:

– Proof of residence
– Proof of identity
– Current work contracts or last three payslips
– Last three bank statements from our bank in Europe
– Our “livret de famille”

When we said it would be hard to get the last three bank statements, they said to consult the Internet. We explained that we did not have access to the Internet, which was why we were here. Alas.

To make matters slightly more complicated, all our luggage had been lost in travel. Ideally those last three bank statements would be there, in the lost luggage. By some strange oversight, they were not. One was in our forwarded mail and the other two were in our shipment from Europe (that were miraculously delivered the afternoon after we arrived).

Bref, we found everything they needed and in the rain, my husband walked to the bank to open our account.

The other thing we did in the rain was to try to find a car rental place. We found one. No cars available until the following week. Where in the world had we landed? This wasn’t Paris for heaven’s sake!

But bank account opened on the Wednesday evening, Thursday we were able to sign up for a 3G subscription (for this you also need a bank account). On the Friday, we were able to sign up for cable (without it, you have 2 local TV stations; as the Olympics are showing right now and we had already missed the opening, we were keen to get on line). Today (Saturday), it was installed at 7.30 in the morning. Yes, you read right. 7.30 on a Saturday – the day starts early here.

Food? We walk to a local overpriced shop and go to the local market. A colleague’s wife kindly drove us to a bigger shop on Friday, where prices are better but still out of this world (a post will follow on prices shortly). We’ve had to buy a few very cheap clothes as our luggage still has not arrived (but is on its way).

School? That will come sometime next week once we have a car.

Telephone? That will also come next week as the fastest appointment is this coming Monday. For this, a bank account is also needed.

Mobile phone? Done. We just needed to come with a deblocked phone and be ready to spend 55 euros on a card that you refill as needed.

Broadband access? Well, in another 3 weeks, following our appointment with the phone company …

We’re getting there, one day at a time.