By Bobby Bordelon
After an hours-long internet outage in Lewisburg and Greenbrier County on Monday, August 31, connectivity has been a concern for many residents. Since the outage, service has been restored and has been functional, but questions about why the service went down in the first place are still unanswered.
Attempts by the Mountain Messenger to reach both Frontier and Suddenlink offices for more information on the outage have, as of press time, been unsuccessful. Although she was unable to speak specifically about the August 31 outage because the company isn’t involved with the lines that went down, Countrymen Communications Owner Carrie Scott explained that outages can happen for a number of reasons, including unintentional outages due to weather.
“For other providers, weather is a bigger ordeal,” explained Scott. “[If the company uses a satellite] and it’s pouring the rain, you’re not going to get anything. That’s just where they’re located, their satellites are literally in outer space. [Countrymen is not] as affected by the weather, as far as rain or storms, but it can be. This happened to us once – if we take a direct lightning hit, it will cause [the system] to glitch. We can have disruptions with tower surges.”
Those with fiber optic lines have added protections from accidental outages, with the line able to handle sections being shut down due to structural backups within the lines themselves. Sometimes however, the lines need maintenance and upgrades, which is another potential reason for intentional outages.
“I’ve worked with landline companies, I’ve worked with wireless, there’s always an upgrade that has to be done,” Scott said. “Even with your own [personal] phone and laptop, there’s always an upgrade, and most of them require a reboot. Those kinds of planned outages are so we can do an upgrade and then reboot.”
The specifics of an intentional outage vary with what needs to be done, much like the difference between rebooting a computer and having to open up the hardware to replace a part. Each of these come with different timeframes and requirements.
“Electronics just have to be rebooted from time to time, so most of the planned outages are scheduled for the middle of the night,” Scott explained. “Most companies have service maintenance windows that they have all the time. [The company will say] from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m. is our service maintenance window, so if we are going to intentionally reboot the system, we’re going to do it in these hours. … Sometimes, for us, if we have to send somebody up a tower, we cannot do that in the middle of the night. … It has to be in the daytime. If it is planned, we send out an email to all of our users. … If we have to send a tower climber up and he has to pull out an old piece of electronics to put in something new, we may try to do it at lunch or on Saturday morning.”
For example, on Tuesday, September 8, Countrymen Communications had a planned outage at 6 a.m., allowing crews for the company and a fiber optic provider to upgrade necessary lines. In that case, Scott explained, emails are sent out to the email on file with the company, and many daytime outages are also posted to their Facebook page, attempting to keep their customers in the loop.
“We live here too,” Scott said. “The reason that we created this company is we saw a need that was not being provided by the nation level carriers and we felt we had the ability to make this mobile internet service work and nobody else was going to help us. … If we want internet here, we’re going to have to get it here ourselves.”
A part of concern with an internet outage is how school in Greenbrier County could continue. Superintendent Jeff Bryant noted that even if internet service was unavailable for some time, the school system is prepared, due to the number of students that are already without internet at home.
“Fortunately with our technology, under the vision of Dr. Vicky Cline, we have prepared for that,” said Bryant. “[The students] have plenty of work that’s been downloaded to their Chromebook [for secondary school students] and elementary students have packets. So I believe we’re prepared for that. If it were a long term issue, we may have to rethink and come up with other solutions but in the short term we’re in good shape there.”