Rats! Vermin further digital divide

A hungry bush rat has isolated the north Queensland mining town of Mt Isa. Landline and mobile phone contact stopped abruptly on Tuesday night and left the town's population, some 25,000, without a dial tone.

A Telstra spokeswoman said this was not an isolated occurrence. "It's rare, but every now and then a rat or a rabbit chews through a cable," she said.

"In drought-stricken areas, when there is a shortage of food around, a cable must look particularly appetising to a rat."

The telco is working closely with vendors and communities to put heavy-duty sheathing over cables in tropical areas to protect against storm and animal damage, but this is taking some time. "It's a big country," said the spokeswoman.

Telstra is also looking at ways to make the cable taste bad to the furry vandals. "Particularly determined rodents trying to make or get to a burrow may still gnaw though the cable," she said.

It took Telstra workers some time to find the damage that affected Mt. Isa and neighbouring Cloncurry because it occurred underground. Rain also delayed the repairs, but Telstra is currently splicing a new cable in.

Telstra has restored digital mobile coverage and is working to restore the rest of the services in Mt Isa, which is expected to be completed later today.

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