Internet outage hinders local businesses

ADDISON COUNTY — Some FairPoint Communications customers early last week struggled with a break in Internet access due to a defective connection in the line.
FairPoint spokeswoman Sabina Haskell said that the company was alerted to the connection problems on the morning of Monday, April 26, when many Middlebury area customers called in with connection problems.
Haskell said that the problems stemmed from a defective jack in a T3 telecommunications cable in Burlington. The line branches out to 289 separate lines, but Haskell said that not all of those lines were necessarily affected.
Efforts to diagnose the source of the problem were slowed because data was passing through the line, albeit at a very slow speed.
Haskell said the best thing to do during an Internet outage is to call customer service and follow the steps to check their own networks, which will determine if the problem is unique to them or systemic.
Although the defective jack was replaced and FairPoint Internet service was back up and running by Tuesday afternoon, the intermittent outages over the two days affected many area businesses and individuals for whom fast Internet access has become a necessity.
“It’s safe to say that (Internet) really is an essential service today,” said Christopher Campbell, incoming executive director of the Vermont Telecommunications Authority. The VTA is an organization designed to promote and facilitate access to broadband Internet throughout the state.
Mike Harrington, co-owner of the Exchange Street Sears in Middlebury, estimated that the outage had cost his store several hundred dollars — not as much, he said, as the thousand of dollars in sales that the store lost during the weekend-long Internet outage in early March when he couldn’t get information from the Sears Web site for potential customers on the sales tax holiday, but still significant.
“(Internet) is our only access to parts, orders and research,” said Harrington.
And while Internet access is rapidly becoming a fixture of modern life, the VTA’s Campbell said that Internet service providers are only loosely regulated, with all stipulations coming from the federal government.
“States are precluded from regulating (Internet access),” he said.
The Federal Communications Commission is the regulating body for telecommunication, and there is an ongoing debate in the FCC and in Congress about how strict regulation should be.
The federal debate comes at a time when the majority of Addison County has nominal access to broadband Internet. Still, new maps released by the Vermont Broadband Mapping Initiative reveal the eastern piece of the town of Middlebury to have limited broadband access, while the majority of Goshen, Hancock and Granville residents still lack access.
And while the VTA is taking significant steps to insure broadband access for all Vermonters, there are few regulations on quality and reliability of service for those who do have access. This, said Campbell, is a source of frustration for his organization.
“Even though people can choose to do without, many people and businesses depend on (Internet access) being there and being reliable,” said Campbell.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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