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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cable failure knocks out Net

MANCHESTER – A 90-minute outage in part of downtown Manchester on Monday killed Internet and voice mail service for at least five hours, affecting thousands of FairPoint customers around northern New England.

The problem did not affect voice telephone service or 911 emergency service.

“I’m on dialup and went down for 10 (hours),” wrote Wolfgang Milbrandt of Mason in an e-mail. “So why does FairPoint have so many eggs in the Manchester basket and is the backup power system that feeble?”

In Milford, Tom Schmidt lost his DSL broadband for about five hours Monday, with it returning “around 6-ish.”

The problem started with the failure around 1:20 p.m. of a primary underground power cable in the Manchester Millyard area, near the WMUR office, said Elizabeth LaRocca, PSNH spokeswoman.

Power was lost in a number of downtown blocks, and engineers returned power about 2:40 p.m., she said. The cause of the failure is still being determined.

Among the buildings affected was FairPoint’s Network Operations Center at 770 Elm St.

The center has a generator to provide backup power in such circumstances. FairPoint spokeswoman Sabina Haskell said “equipment that controls the handoff between commercial power and generator power” failed to work.

The operations center is distinct from the centers and switches that handle telephone voice service.

Haskell said DSL broadband and voice-mail service was lost for an uncertain number of customers in the three New England states served by FairPoint – Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire – through the evening.

Some issues also occurred with dial-up Internet, which usually travels through standard telephone switches, and in New Hampshire, there were problems with “static DSL,” a type of broadband service, as late as Tuesday.

Haskell said customers having problems as a result of the shutdown could call technical support at 1-800-249-5019.

Internet service is not regulated by the state, which oversees only voice telephone service, but the long downtime still raised New Hampshire regulators’ eyebrows.

“We have asked the company to provide information to explain how they will prevent this problem from happening again,” said Kate Bailey, director of the telecommunications section at the Public Utilities Commission.

In Milford, despite the problem, Schmidt said he is as happy with DSL from FairPoint as he had been with broadband from its predecessor, Verizon.

“It has been as reliable, no less reliable, than Verizon,” said Schmidt, who has had Internet in Milford since 1999. He cited his “very stable 3 (megabyte) connection,” even though he is technically too far from the local substation to get service at that speed.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-5831 or dbrooks@nashua