So my house and family are cut off from the internet. Again.
It’s actually the second day we’re been offline, and Fairpoint, the utility company, can’t get us back online for a third.
Let me explain.
My family lives in a fairly remote area, at the edge of a tiny town on top of Vermont’s Green Mountains, nearly within a National Forest. Cell phone coverage does not extend to our town, generally, so the internet is especially crucial for communication purposes. As with many American towns, there is only the one broadband provider, Fairpoint, in this case. The internet is, not atypically for folks in the developed world, a major way we learn, get news, communicate, shop, entertain ourselves, and figure out new things to do. It is also essential to our business, since everything BAC does is computer-mediated.
Let me add that this month there are two college-age children in the house, for whom internet access is like oxygen, but more important.
Being offline for a few minutes is annoying to everyone in our family, except the cats. Being offline for several hours is a major setback. A day? two days? Three?
This all began yesterday (Saturday) morning, and wasn’t heralded by anything. Let me be clear on this point. Nothing happened to knock us offline. There wasn’t a storm, or a tree falling onto a crucial line, or a sudden power outage, or a bear pawing at a junction box. Just a lovely day, and suddenly the 21st century disappeared. Our routers’ internet connection lights turned from green to angry red.
I called Fairpoint and spent an hour with their representative, who, in turn, contacted her supervisor. During this hour I did a good amount of hunting down device numbers, unplugging and plugging in power cords, altering data in router firmware, watching indicator lights, watching lights some more, and waiting on hold. In the end, not only couldn’t the Fairpoint people help us, but they couldn’t even tell us what the problem even was.
Their next step was to send a technician to the area. That couldn’t be done over the weekend, no. Not until Monday. And possibly Monday evening. “All we can do is wait?” I asked. “Yes,” came the mournful reply.
“I will have to pack up my office and find broadband in the next town,” I continued. “We might have to rent a hotel room. This is costing us money and time, if not clients.”
“Well…” was their best reply. No help.
(I also tried communicating with Fairpoint via the other methods they advertised. I tweeted at them (Fairpoint on Twitter), but they never replied, despite the account still being active. I emailed them, but have received no response as of writing this. I posted to local internet venue FrontPorchForum twice, and while neighbors have responded, Fairpoint remains silent. It’s mildly funny that an internet company doesn’t like to communicate with the internet.
Maybe this blog post, which uses the name “Fairpoint” liberally, and will be copied to other social media platforms, will garner some attention.)
It’s Sunday night and the house is still offline. Both routers still emit a fierce red light where the internet green should be. My family has spent long hours in different locations, sucking down WiFi where they can. I expect them to take over the nearby public library for most of Monday. I, in contrast, am traveling, and taking hours – hours! – to try to solve this problem.
Now we have new information, or at least speculation. Another business in our town is offline. They also went dark (or red) on Saturday. They also await deliverance by Monday night. Said business owners have heard that a network switch has failed, and that it was failing over the past few months. That’s interesting, and more informative than anything Fairpoint has said so far.
Beyond the personal pain level, this might be an interesting story of American infrastructure. Recall that Fairpoint has no competitor in our area, hence no market drive to improve their service (or even make it work at a basic level). There isn’t a town- or state-based public internet. And Vermont made it hard to roll out cell phone coverage.
Meanwhile, Fairpoint claims to have improved itself, according to its CIO. Down on the ground, they’ve managed to break 9-11, twice. So perhaps this is just a local story, or even just a regional one, as Fairpoint is a big telcom player in New England.
There’s more to say about what it means to be involuntarily blocked from the internet in 2016, but I’ll save that for another post.
Any advice or recommendations?