W. Va.: FiberNet Deals with Blackout to 20,000, Including First Responders

July 12, 2007

Phone and Internet provider FiberNet expected service to be restored to most of its customers Wednesday following a blackout that affected up to 20,000 homes, businesses and emergency providers across West Virginia.

Employees of the Charleston-based fiber-optic company have been working around the clock since Tuesday morning’s equipment failure, according to a news release issued Wednesday morning.

Workers were giving priority to critical customers such as hospitals, 911 centers and fire and police departments and started replacing equipment serving those facilities Tuesday evening. As of 8 a.m. Wednesday, all hospitals except one in Oak Hill were back on line, and service at Oak Hill was expected to resume at any time.

Hospitals in Fayette, Harrison, Putnam and Raleigh counties were affected, as well as several emergency operations centers, said Terry Smarr, the company’s vice president of wholesale and enterprise networks.

Residential and business customers in Beckley, Charleston, Clarksburg, Huntington, Morgantown, Parkersburg and other communities also lost service.

A processor that routes phone data signals to phone lines stopped working about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday because the processor’s primary and backup switcher cards failed, Smarr said.

“Both of those cards failed at the same time,” she said. “That’s very unusual to happen.”

By midday Tuesday, the company had received about 1,100 e-mails from customers asking about the outage.

“We know we’ve inconvenienced our customers. We know that they’re used to having their service up. We know that. That’s our primary goal. We’re not just standing around here,” Smarr said. “What we’ll do later on is we will figure out what happened and put safeguards in place so that it never happens again.”

Although some data circuits were also involved, the outage involves mostly phone service. Some customers such as hospitals may be able to make outgoing calls, depending on their setup, Smarr said.

“Believe me, when I got up this morning, this was the furthest thing from my mind that would ever happen,” she said Tuesday. “It’s a freaky thing. It’s just mind boggling.”

FiberNet has about 45,000 customers throughout West Virginia and in western Maryland and southwestern Pennsylvania.

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