Backup systems failed in St. John's phone outage

Bell Aliant says it's going to launch an investigation into how 100,000 phone customers in St. John's and internet clients all over Newfoundland lost service late Friday.

Telephones were operating again Saturday morning after a power cable shorted at a switching station in St. John's, starting a small fire that led to a loss of service for five hours. But it's not clear why backup systems didn't kick in, Bell Aliant spokeswoman Brenda Reid said. The company has all kinds of redundant systems, so "this particular type of outage is unprecedented," she said. "We'll certainly investigate to see what occurred."

The fire, reported at the Bell Aliant building in the Allandale neighbourhood of the city, broke out about 10 p.m. local time. A technician at the scene extinguished the fire quickly before firefighters arrived, Reid said. There was no 911 service during the outage, but police said there were no major emergencies. Automated bank machines and credit cards were unusable because phone lines were out. Flights continued to land at St. John's airport throughout the evening, but controllers were unable to contact other airports.

Technicians worked for hours on the problem, and by 3 a.m. local time Saturday, Aliant said phone service had been restored. Internet service was back a few hours later.

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