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Information highway breakdown

Internet disruption, communication black out infuriates Whistler businesses



By Vivian Moreau

In the wake of a five-day Internet disruption that left more than 3,000 Whistler businesses and residents without service and wondering what was going on, Telus says it is revising its communications policies.

Whistler businesses were left scrambling after a Dec. 14 storm downed a Telus fibre optic line about 20 km north of Squamish, cutting off high-speed Internet service to Whistler and Pemberton. Businesses were left without ability to send or retrieve e-mails or process credit or debit card transactions in the busy week leading up to Christmas. As businesses struggled to keep their doors open many were frustrated with a lack of information from Telus’s customer service and technical support staff.

“It’s not that accidents don’t happen, but there’s been absolutely no communication from Telus,” said Charlie Hastie, owner of Whistler Dream Accommodations. The property management firm had been unable to receive e-mails from potential visitors inquiring about coming to stay in Whistler over the holidays.

“People have been e-mailing us saying ‘I’d like to book this restaurant, this ski lesson’ and as far as they’re concerned we’re just ignoring them,” Hastie said. “So they’re going ‘Whistler dream? This is a Whistler nightmare.’”

Many Whistler business owners echoed Hastie’s concerns, demanding to know why Telus did not have regular radio announcements updating businesses and residents about the outage. Telus says news releases were sent to Whistler media outlets at 10 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 15 explaining the cause and extent of the disruption and indicating it could take three days for service to be restored. Text messages were also sent to Whistler cell phone customers.

Telus’s regional service head said the telecommunications company is paying close attention to Whistler’s concerns and will be considering customer suggestions in a communications rethink.

“I will definitely be taking their feedback and incorporating that into new ways of doing business. Absolutely,” said Maureen Daschuk, Telus’s general manager of customer solutions delivery, from their Burnaby offices.

Internet service was restored about 4 p.m. Tuesday at the site of the downed cable beside Highway 99 and the Culliton Creek bridge after crews spliced together the severed fibre optic line. The complex six-hour repair involved lowering three-person line crews from a helicopter to the tops of three 66-metre hydro towers in order to drop one end of the sliced cable to the ground, where ground crews then joined the cable back together. The fibre optic line, which carries three Telus Internet lines as well as Shaw Cable services, will be raised once winter storms have ceased and crews have had a chance to recover from weeks of clean-up.