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Communication breakdown

Internet disruption infuriates Whistler businesses



In the wake of a Dec. 14 storm that left 3,000 in Whistler without high speed Internet service Whistler businesses are improvising in order to keep doors open.

“We’re dropping the hi-tech stuff in favour of old school radios,” said Resort Cabs’ owner Jack Crompton. Resort Cabs relies on a computerized dispatch system that locates cabs via global positioning and sends text messages to drivers over cell phones. But when Telus’s fibre optic line was downed by heavy snow between Whistler and Squamish at about 1:30 a.m. last Thursday, Resort Cabs began dispatching cars over radio mikes.

Telus runs its line from Vancouver to Whistler along BC Hydro power lines and the snow — 61 cm reported in Whistler — caused Telus’ optic line to snap, leaving one portion on the ground and the other dangling from the 66-metre tower.

Telus intends to reconnect the two portions of the line on the ground this week, then raise them back to the top of the towers once the winter storms cease.

But the repair is proving problematic for Telus work crews. A helicopter needs to be brought in during daylight to retrieve the line left near the top of the tower and requires Highway 99 to be shut down for up to two hours so a crew of eight can reconnect the cable.

Telus spokesperson Shawn Hall said the complex and time-consuming repair is also dangerous.
“It’s high voltage cables up there so we have to be really careful about doing the work,” Hall said. “We can’t put people in danger.”

Dial-up Internet service is still available in Whistler, Hall said, as well as long-distance service, which was transferred to a radio back-up service after the incident. Regular telephone service was unaffected.

Reaction from local businesses varies from pragmatic to perturbed.

Rogers Chocolates is using a manual credit card imprinter and has switched one debit machine to dial-up after the specialty chocolate store lost the cable link that provides connections for high-speed debit and credit card transactions. Normally provided by Shaw Cable, which shares the fibre optic line with Telus, service was severed when Telus’ line went down. Store manager Leslee Wake said customers are understanding about transaction delays.

“They haven’t been complaining but it’s problematic for us – a lot of extra work,” Wake said.

The Hub Internet Café in Creekside has lost about 50 per cent of its business since it lost its connection. Co-owner Neil Taylor said the store, which sells bus passes and provides fax, photocopying and photo processing services, has had to shut down its 26 Internet stations and is “giving refunds left, right and centre” to visitors who bought Internet time.

Prior Snowboards in Function Junction is a high-end ski and snowboard manufacturer and receives about 500 emails a day inquiring about products for sale online.

Downloading company emails from a neighbouring business on Monday, Prior’s owner Dean Thompson said there should have been better communication from Telus about the service disruption.
“It would have been nice to know early Friday that it was going to be as long as it has because we’re scrambling now.”

Whistler Dream Vacations, a property management company, said many of its customers were left out in the cold when the booking company lost Internet service.
“People have been emailing us saying ‘I’d like to book this restaurant, ski lessons’ and as far as they’re concerned we’re just ignoring them,” said owner Charlie Hastie. “So they’re going ‘Whistler Dream? It’s not a Whistler dream, it’s a Whistler nightmare.’”
Hastie said there is a larger issue other than Internet disruption.

“It’s not that accidents don’t happen, but there’s been absolutely no communication from Telus,” Hastie said. Frustrated with the lack of information, Hastie asked why Telus did not have regular radio announcements updating Whistler businesses and residents about the outage.

Telus said news releases were sent to Whistler media outlets on Friday, Dec. 15 explaining the cause and extent of the disruption and indicating it could take three days for service to be restored.

In the meantime, Tourism Whistler has set up six computers in the Telus Whistler Conference Centre lobby for businesses that need to check email. Available free from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. until service is restored, Damon Hughes, Tourism Whistler’s manager of information technology says the Conference Centre’s high speed connection is a separate, dedicated Telus fibre line unaffected by last week’s storm.

“Anyone who wants to check an email or an order can come on in,” said Hughes.

Pitt Meadows-based Tranzeo Wireless Technologies provides Internet service to from Vancouver to Whistler through a series of microwave wireless towers.
The company’s two technicians were on the run this week bringing new customers online who were switching from Telus or Shaw to the start-up wireless company.
“We’ve called head office to request help,” technician Matt Walker said. “We’re expecting that as word gets out we’re going to get a fair number more calls.”