Car crashes ... so does Internet
<p>Thousands of internet customers were unable to access the Web Tuesday after a vehicle collision with a utility pole in Otis Orchards, Wash.</p>
| January 26, 2011 8:00 PM
E-mails were not received, orders were not placed and websites went blank.
Companies scrambled, educators improvised. Instead of taking a computerized exam, some local students were forced to use pencil and paper.
The Internet disappeared Tuesday, and the Inland Northwest took a step backward.
"I guess overall it is a wakeup call that made us realize how dependent on technology we have become," said Jean Bengfort, director of technology for the Coeur d'Alene School District.
At 4:20 a.m., thousands of North Idaho and eastern Washington customers lost Internet service when a Toyota Corolla struck a utility pole in Otis Orchards, Wash., according to the Spokane County Sheriff's Department. The collision knocked over a pole at the intersection of Starr Road and Wellesley Avenue, and ripped apart an aerial fiber optic cable.
One person was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, deputies said. The cable was seriously damaged.
"That telephone pole was demolished, and to my knowledge, there's (about) 576 strands of fiber that go through that location. It's been pretty devastating," said Derrick Green, director of sales at OrbitCom, an Internet provider that serves customers in the Spokane/Coeur d'Alene area.
He said around 40 OrbitCom customers were affected.
Throughout the region, the lack of Internet service caused innumerable problems, some small, many quite large. Kristina Read, an employee at Interstate Office Supply in Coeur d'Alene, dealt with plenty of headaches on Tuesday.
"Our customers aren't able to place the Internet orders with us," she said about 3 p.m. "I'm not able to place my orders (online) at all today. I just faxed the order to our suppliers. Kind of a pain in the butt."
Teachers and administrators within the Coeur d'Alene School District tried to circumvent their Internet troubles. Internal communication worked fine, Bengfort said, but e-mail and other electronic resources were not available.
Some Web editors gathered for a half-day seminar on Tuesday, she added. There wasn't much they could do without the Internet.
"We actually had one teacher who had a personal Verizon (device)," Bengfort said. "So we could get one computer on and show things."
A computer application class at Lake City High School had an online exam scheduled, but couldn't log on. The students took a paper test instead.
"When you've been depending on (the Web), and then it's not available, it's difficult," Bengfort said.
An Avista Utilities crew was in Otis Orchards soon after the collision, according to Avista Communications Manager Dan Kolbet. Workers installed a new pole.
About 700 Avista customers were affected when the pole went down, Kolbet said. By early afternoon, power had been entirely restored.
The pole at Otis Orchards is joint-use, Kolbet explained. The fiber-optic cable at that location is owned by the Zayo Group, which leases its fiber to Internet providers like OrbitCom.
Several companies lease Zayo's fiber, and use it to provide Internet access for thousands of customers. The pole supported a "bottleneck" of fiber, officials said.
"We're in the process of repairing (the cable)," Glenn Russo, a Zayo Group spokesman, said Tuesday afternoon. "If a single fiber is cut, it can impact service."
Some providers can re-route their Internet service through alternate channels, bypassing a trouble spot, Russo explained. Other companies do not have that capability.
He was unable to estimate the number of Idaho and Washington customers affected by the collision.
Splicing cable back together is a time-consuming process, Russo added. He said that crews were in the field, and the fiber should be completely repaired by midnight Wednesday.
On Tuesday night some Internet service in the Coeur d'Alene area had been restored - including at The Press, which is why there are stories and photos in your newspaper this morning.