louis martin
cns news & features

One of the requirements of a robust communication system is that it function at critical times. By that standard Internet failed big last week during the storm.

The problem is that few Internet access providers had backup power available for the computer equipment that runs the Internet.

``It won't happen again,'' said Martin Levy, founder of Internet Connection in Santa Cruz, an access provider for thousands of subscribers on the Central Coast between Monterey and Santa Cruz. When power was lost at the main Scotts Valley facility east of Santa Cruz, the system went down for 6 hours.

Internet Connection was better prepared than some facilities. It had limited battery backup and it had a generator. But the generator had not been hooked up and tested. When the power failed the generator could not be connected.

The Mendocino Community Network serves an area from Westport in Mendocino county to parts of northern Sonoma county. It serves about 200 customers. MCN was even less prepared than Internet Connection.

According Rennie Innis, business manager at MCN, computers at the facility went down Monday about 11 PM and stayed down till Wednesday about 5 PM. The facility had no backup power. But said Innis, ``Most users in the Mendocino area were without power themselves.'' So it made no difference to most. But a few, said Innis, ``had expected to be able to dial up with their portables even though they didn't have power themselves.''

The failure prompted Innis to got out on Tuesday and buy a generator, which he had wired up to the facility by Wednesday. Come next time, Mendocino will be ready.

Big storms, fallen trees, and downed power lines are nothing new in Humbolt county. That, according to Larry Goldberg, president of North Coast Internet, is why his facility was prepared with UPS's--or Uninterruptable Power Supplies--and a generator. This time, as it turned out, they weren't required. Power only flickered once--at about 8 AM on Monday at the facility in Eureka.

``We were not hit too bad,'' said Goldberg. They did lose phone access to some areas due to the storm, however.

The node serves about 700 customers in Humbolt and Del Norte counties, and when the system goes down, said Goldberg, ``We hear about it within 10 minutes.''

Some facilities just lucked out. Mobius Net in San Francisco has no backup power, but their part of the city had no power outage.

Able Technical Services in San Jose has ``a lot of customer,'' said owner Howard Melworm, but only short-term battery backup. Fortunately, his part of the town did not lose power. South San Jose was not so lucky.

Melworm said that some access providers ``can't afford to be reliable'' by purchasing backup power systems. They can cost up to $100,000.

For that reason he doubts that the Internet will achieve the reliability of the telephone system prior to its bust up. When the phone system was one large company, he said, it was affordable to build in reliability.

Said Levy of Internet Connection, ``What happened last week was nothing.'' He said that many of the smaller access providers don't have backup equipment on the shelf for when equipment failures occur. Internet Connection, despite last week's failure, does, he said.

Netcom Communications of San Jose, one of the largest Internet companies, and Creative Net of San Francisco failed to return 2 calls about backup power. Connex Communications of San Francisco and Pacific Net of Ukiah also failed to return calls.



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