Offline in Vermont, again

So my house and family are cut off from the internet.  Again.

Fairpoint logoIt’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.

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 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.

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 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.


Delightfully, this is the image Fairpoint’s Twitter account shared yesterday. Yes, I agree that critical systems should stay connected.  Maybe Fairpoint can help.

Their next step was to send a technician to the area.  That couldn’t be done over the weekend, no.

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 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.

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Maybe this blog post, which uses the name “Fairpoint” liberally, and will be copied to other social media platforms, will garner some attention.)

router lights

Router lights in happier times.

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?

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12 Responses to Offline in Vermont, again

  1. ellenandjim says:

    Only to send commiserations. If there was someone else in your area, then my advice would be to move. Here in the DC area there are usually a couple of options for each area; the mainstream one is what I have as it is what Jim left me with and Comcast is actually pretty reliable. For Izzy and I the internet is a lifeline too. There’s this thought: I’ve been following Future Learn courses on life on the internet; these show how central the internet is for so many people across the earth. Now many have fragile connections; many not digital savvy; many people at home or gov’ts making obstacles. So you are not alone

  2. CogDog says:

    Oh [REDACTED]. I for one will not suggest moving; your mountain is too beautiful to pack it in for a city.

    The problem of course is that Internet access is not a right, and the only way you get choice is proportional to customer base.

    My town too is rural (<1500 full time residents), hours from a big city, but we have 2-3 internet providers, and mobile (well Verizon has 4G here, AT&T is absent).

    Let's lobby Google to run some fiber up to Ripton! What happened to your local co-op?

    I hope Fairpoint gets their act together. I will say the initial small company that provided my cable connection was crappy on speed and service until they got bought by a slightly bigger company

  3. Steven Kaye says:

    Other options: work with local utilities? Work to change the law to encourage more cell towers? Not sure what else to suggest.

  4. csbv says:

    No wisdom to offer but I have had similar issues in the past. I worked for a company in a painfully small town back in the late 90’s and early 00’s. Most of the town residents were actually Amish. Internet options were limited to dial-up or satellite. Embarq (local phone provider) told me repeatedly that DSL was not available in my area. I happened to run into a technician from Embarq in a restaurant and expressed my frustration. I was hoping he could tell me when they might be deploying the service. Imagine my surprise when he revealed that he had installed about 240 high speed DSL channels over 6 months ago and was wondering why nobody had yet ordered the service. I had DSL the next day.

    I also figured out that the switching station was just down the road from our office. On at least two occasions when our phones and/or Internet went out (a somewhat regular occurrence), I drove down there and banged on the door to notify them. Usually a farmer had gotten overzealous with a backhoe.

    My best advice is to bribe or cajole the technician that eventually resolves the problem into giving you his cell number. Often the techs have no idea that a problem exists due to communication issues. There’s a certain irony in that.

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