It was a good time to visit the Ocracoke beach when phone and internet went down the afternoon of March 15. Photo: C. Leinbach

Editor’s note: Suddenly, on March 15, Ocracoke’s internet and cell phone service went out for the entire afternoon causing some on the island to scramble for communication while others welcomed a “rectangle free” afternoon. No official press release was issued at the time, but the Observer’s Richard Taylor tracked down the reason.

By Richard Taylor 

CenturyLink’s fiber optic cable serving Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands was inadvertently damaged March 15 by Basnight Construction during replacement of a damaged fire hydrant in the Whalebone area of Nags Head.

This caused Ocracoke and parts of Hatteras Island to lose internet and cellular service. Landline service was not affected.

It took CenturyLink’s technicians until 6:30 that evening to repair their corrupted underground fiber along N.C. 12 near Jennette’s Pier.

Ocracoke gets all telephone, cellular and internet service through an extension fiber cable bundled with Tideland Electric’s submarine cable under Pamlico Sound between Hatteras and Ocracoke islands. CenturyLink maintains a low-capacity microwave link here from their Cedar Road central office to Cedar Island for limited backup service.

Before his election as Ocracoke’s county commissioner in November 2020, Randal Mathews was a CenturyLink network technician, working mostly on Hatteras Island. Mathews was able to get a cell signal that afternoon from the Verizon tower in Hatteras Village by climbing up a dune at the South Dock ferry terminal at the north end of the island.

”I’m not sure what exactly happened,” he said later. “Normally, if everything was cut, Hatteras would be down too. So it sounds like to me that everything wasn’t cut.”

Downeast Underground from Manteo, a CenturyLink contractor, that morning was coincidently boring under Irvin Garrish Highway at Cedar Road to install a short fiber extension to serve the Pony Island Inn.

Seeing underground workers along the road, some islanders figured the outage must be here on the island, when, actually, that work had nothing to do with the partial fiber cable cut in Whalebone.

However, Downeast did damage the phone company’s 600-pair local service copper cable under N.C.12 that morning, which CenturyLink repaired the next day at Downeast’s expense.

Nags Head Public works spokesperson Eric Claussen said, “There was fiber cable marked out there on South Virginia Dare Trail (NC 12), but not in the location of the hydrant. It was not picked on locate, so they didn’t know it was there. We called CenturyLink and they came out immediately.”

He said that since the fiber was not marked, neither the town, nor Basnight Construction would incur any cost for the repair.

For the record, some homes still have land lines and some businesses have them, for example, the Variety Store and the Ocracoke Community Library, currently housed in Deepwater Theater until June.

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