I’m writing at about 9 AM on Sunday, December 23. I’m in a terminal window running EMACS. Why, aside from the fact that I’m kinda old school and EMACS rocks? Our internet has been down for the last two-and-a-half days. Our Internet Service Provider (ISP) uses a technology called Broadband Over Powerlines (BPL) to act as the “last mile” into our house. Our service comes via the power lines in our house. A special model receives the signal, then, using an ethernet cable, it goes to my wireless access point, which all my various devices use.
On Thursday night, there was a car accident, which caused a fire that burned for about two hours, melting fibre which served their network. My heart goes out to the family that was involved in that crash. However, they’ve had to bring in some new fibre. There are 288 strands of fibre in the run that was impacted, and each strand has to be individual matched and fused. As you can imagine, this is a painstaking task. The last update I had said that it would be back up later today (once I get to post this, I’ll update when it comes back). However, that makes it down over sixty hours. In my day job, this would be absolutely unacceptable.
I’ve always had support concerns around this ISP. Their hours of support are nine to nine. Usually, the person who answers the phone is someone who can help with billing issues, rather than technical ones. It remains unclear to me if their network is monitored: will they react soon after an outage, or do they have to wait for someone to phone in an issue?
My big concern is how they simply are not prepared for this sort of situation. As I mentioned, the last mile for my internet is via the power line, so the fibre is presumably taking the signal to a gateway that converts it to something usable on the power lines. However, it appears to run in overhead lines, so it is vulnerable not only to a car fire, but also a tree, high winds, or other threads. Why is this path not both diverse and redundant? Given that it is all data, why do they have no capability to route signal for my connection to me through some other path? There are many ways they could avoid this situation.
Customer service has said that we will likely get our bill reduced by a prorated amount, reflecting the outage we experienced. This would likely be $5-10 per subscriber impacted. This is inadequate two ways. First, I do not feel this will make me whole. We have had to incurr additional expenses due to our lack of internet, ranging from increase used of our bandwidth allotment from our cell phones (both in use of the SmartPhone, as well as tethering to work laptops), trips to free WiFi sites like Starbucks, or delaying things such as holiday shopping. Further, the amount, while likley somewhat painful, is likely inadequate to incite improving their resiliance. It is cheaper to pay this once in a while than invest in secondary paths, or technology to route around issue. The customers are left wanting.
Unforutnatley, at this time, I have few options. I will not go with Time-Warner, given that I feel corporations that generate content lack the neutrality necessary for me to get good service. The DSL service on my street is very slow. I have spoken with a business contact about the phone company’s fibre optic service, but that is likley at least months away. I will be with this company for at least the foreseeable future.
Fifteen years ago, when broadband was entering a lot of whomes, it was a geeky novelty. However, as we have entered the second decade of the twenty-first century, it has become a key part of many American households. We use it instead of newspapers, to shop, and in a million and one other ways. It is no longer acceptable to expect users to simply accept an outage of more than a few hours.
UPDATE: I got a phone call at around two PM on my cell phone saying our connection was back up. This was confirmed at around four, when I got back home.