A switchover from Verizon’s Internet servers to those ofFairPoint Communications left an as-yet-undetermined number of Vermontbusinesses and consumers without Internet or email access for up to severaldays last week, a FairPoint spokesperson confirmed Friday.
On June 1, the day Verizon cut over its so-called DNS servers toFairPoint’s, scores of FairPoint customers were left without Internet access —primarily small businesses and more sophisticated home-Internet users, such asonline gamers who use static IP addresses.
The DNS, or domain name system, converts a domain name, such asgoogle.com, into a numerical code so that the computer can find and communicatewith other devices around the world, much the way a phone book translates aperson’s name into an area code and telephone number. FairPoint customers withstatic IP addresses — meaning those who manually set their DNS information intotheir computers — would have been unable to access the Internet if theirequipment settings hadn’t been changed beforehand to reflect FairPoint’s newsettings. Although the cutover was a scheduled event, and FairPoint says itnotified its customers via phone and email, many customers reported they nevergot the message.
“We were expecting that some of our customers might have aservice interruption,” said FairPoint spokesperson Beth Fastiggi. “I suspectthat any of them that did would have resolved those [problems] by now becausethey would have called the appropriate technical support number.”
Fastiggi couldn’t say how many customers lost service, or for howlong; nor would she disclose how many static IP customers FairPoint has in Vermont,calling that “proprietary information.” (A spokesperson for the VermontDepartment of Public Service estimated the number at about 5000.)
Fastiggi also downplayed the severity of the problem, notingthat, except for a small bump in call volume to FairPoint’s technical supportcenter on June 1, most of the week’s call volume appeared normal. “Any customershould be fixed right now, because, basically, it’s an easy fix,” she added.
But for some Burlington-area businesses, the fix was neitherquick nor easy. Dave Rose is owner of Rose Computer Technology Services in SouthBurlington, a “managed service provider” that offers mostly small business ITservices. According to Rose, a number of his clients began losing Internetservice early last week and didn’t know why. While some of the problems couldbe fixed remotely or over the phone, others required more extensivetroubleshooting. As late as Friday, Rose had to send a technician to a client’sbusiness in St. Albans to correct the problem. Rose wouldn’t disclose how manyof his customers were affected overall, though he pointed out that none hadbeen notified in advance by FairPoint.
Zoltan Keve, vice president of sales at CaleidoscopeCommunications in Burlington, reported similar Internet outages from hisclients. According to Keve, “dozens of customers” lost their Internet systembeginning June 2. “There were various levels of annoyance,” he said. “Somepeople’s Internet was impacted a lot. Some people just couldn’t browse for theafternoon … It would be as if your phone company changed your phone numberwithout telling you.”
Keve, whose company essentially acts as a telecommunicationsagent for various businesses, echoed Rose’s experiences, noting that somecustomers’ problems were quickly rectified over the phone, while othersrequired more significant troubleshooting.
“When companies like FairPoint and Verizon decide they’re goingto transition major numbers of customers from one DNS address to another, thatshould be a planned event that’s publicized,” Keve said. “Notifications shouldgo out. Instructions should be provided. None of that happened.”
Caleidoscope filed a lawsuit against FairPoint earlier this year,claiming the company stole clients from Caleidoscope and engaged in deceptiveand unfair trade practices; FairPoint denies the allegation. The case ispending.
Apparently, neither FairPoint nor Verizon notified the state thatthe recent cutover was scheduled to occur. “We didn’t receive any heads-up thatit was going to happen,” said Tamera Pariseau, coordinator of consumer affairsfor the Vermont Department of Public Service. When, after receiving numerousconsumer complaints last week, DPS finally contacted FairPoint, “Their responsewas, they were not really sure what was happening, either.”
Last week’s computer glitch was just the latest in a series oftechnical aggravations FairPoint customers have endured over the last yearsince the Charlotte, North Carolina-based company took over the landlines andInternet network from Verizon throughout Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. Themost serious of those problems occurred on September 3, when customers innorthern Vermont were unable to access the emergency 911 system forapproximately 90 minutes. DPS Commissioner David O’Brien called that outage“preventable” and “absolutely unacceptable.”
UPDATE 2:57 p.m.:
The South Burlington Police Department, Fire Department and cityadministrative offices were without the use of most of their telephonelines this morning for about six hours following an outage caused by acircuit failure at FairPoint Communications, a police spokespersonconfirmed this afternoon.
Accordingto a press release issued by the South Burlington Police Departmentthis afternoon, all their phones are back in service. After consultingwith their telecom vendor, Level 3 Communications, they determined thatthe issue was not theirs, and forwarded the call to FairPoint.FairPoint then dispatched a technician, who identified the problem asan old communications circuit that had failed.
AlthoughE-911 operators were continually able to contact both police and fireagencies throughout the outage thanks to redundancies built into thecommunications network, at one point the city was down to just twooperable phone lines. The incident was described as "a significantinconvenience" to city operations.
Aspokesperson for the Department of Public Service said it's unclearwhether this incident was at all related to the problems that occurredlast week with FairPoint's DNS servers.