FairPoint Internet outage hits local firms

MIDDLEBURY — A software glitch within the FairPoint Communications system interrupted both e-mail and Internet service for 280 customers in the Middlebury exchange this past weekend, a glitch that cost one local store at least $6,000 in lost business.
The service outage began early Saturday morning and lasted until late Monday morning, according to FairPoint spokeswoman Sabina Haskell.
“It was a software issue,” said Haskell. “It was a difficult issue to track down.”
The interruption of service could not have happened at a worse time for the Middlebury Sears store on Exchange Street, which with other state businesses was trying to capitalize on the sales tax holiday this past Saturday. The Middlebury Sears depends on an Internet link with Sears headquarters to track down merchandise that can be ordered and shipped to local clients. Without that link, Middlebury Sears owners Mike and Kym Harrington could not interact with corporate headquarters to file some orders for customers who came in on Saturday.
“It probably cost us more than $6,000 in business by not having that (Sears) Web site up,” Mike Harrington said. “Some people just left.”
Harrington said his long conversations with FairPoint officials proved fruitless. To make matters worse, he could not spare any of his employees during the shank of the business day to go to an off-site computer to access the Sears Web site and process shipping orders. He was finally able to send his daughter to the family’s home computer at 5 p.m., where she was able to access the Sears site until closing at 9 p.m.
Fortunately, the Middlebury Sears still had a decent Saturday in spite of the e-mail/Internet blackout, according to Harrington.
Other local businesses affected by the outage included the Addison Independent and Middlebury Discount Beverage. Joe Cotroneo, owner of Middlebury Discount Beverage, said the glitch affected his business’s ability to process credit and debit cards for weekend sales. Consequently, it took a couple of minutes for the store’s credit card machine to process cards. In some cases, the transactions did not go through. In the meantime, customers stacked up in a line at the register.
“It’s been a huge pain in the neck,” Cotroneo said on Monday.
Cotroneo noted that thankfully, most of the purchases at his store are for smaller sums that many customers were able to pay for with cash. Most customers elected to pay in cash rather than wait in line for credit card clearance, according to Cotroneo.
FairPoint acquired Verizon’s landline operations in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire in 2007 for a sum of approximately $2.7 billion. Since then FairPoint’s operation has been marked by some service glitches, and the Charlotte, N.C.-based company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last October.
Haskell said the company is improving its track record.
“I think the service metrics report to the Vermont Department of Public Service are going in the right direction, and we are happy about that,” Haskell said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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