Internet outage in Worcester could give municipal broadband a push

Andreas Milano

WORCESTER — A “network fiber break” that knocked out the internet for a good chunk of the city Monday has leaders refocused on improving local broadband connectivity and the option of municipal broadband, saying that the future depends on fast, reliable internet. “I think the pandemic has shined a spotlight […]

WORCESTER — A “network fiber break” that knocked out the internet for a good chunk of the city Monday has leaders refocused on improving local broadband connectivity and the option of municipal broadband, saying that the future depends on fast, reliable internet.

“I think the pandemic has shined a spotlight on inequalities and one of those inequalities is the digital divide,” District 5 City Councilor Matt Wally, chair of the city’s Urban Technologies, Innovation & Environment Committee, said Tuesday. “The internet certainly isn’t a leisure activity: it affects our health through telemedicine, our economic development, our learning, etc. That’s why I was pretty frustrated (Monday) and a lot of frustration also comes from my constituents.”

More:Online outage dismisses classes: Some Worcester students lost remote learning time Monday when internet service failed

A spokesperson for Charter-Spectrum — which provides service for more than 99% of the city’s internet users, according to a July 2020 report by the Worcester Regional Research Bureau — said in an email Tuesday that a network fiber break knocked out internet, video and voice services in the areas of Holden Street and Shore Drive in Worcester in the late morning Monday.

A Charter-Spectrum truck works on Greenwood Street in Worcester Tuesday.

The break occurred following some preparatory work for a local Massachusetts Department of Transportation project, the spokesperson said, and the outage lasted until early evening. The company re-spliced more than 430 pieces of fiber to fix the outage and a team was onsite throughout, the spokesperson said. They referred questions regarding credit to the company’s customer service team.

The spokesperson declined to issue a statement for customers impacted by the break and declined to answer if there was anything that the company could do or is doing to prevent an outage from happening again in the future. 

A Charter Spectrum truck parked on Cedar Street in Worcester Tuesday.

Residents first received a text notification from Charter-Spectrum at 9:53 a.m. concerning an outage that crews expected to be resolved by noon. A half-hour later another text message said restoration work was “taking longer than expected,” and a 3:28 p.m. notification said service was estimated to be restored by 6 p.m. 

The outage demonstrated the extent to which businesses, education institutions and others are dependent on the internet.

“There was not much we could do, unfortunately, these days everything runs on computers,” said Tim MacDonald, owner of Worcester Fitness. “We couldn’t sell anything, unless with cash, all our scheduling is by computer. … We were walking around crippled but there was nothing we could do.”

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Maura Healey concurred.

“This experience highlights how essential internet service is to our daily lives, especially during this time of remote learning and working,” Chloe Gotsis, spokeswoman for  Healey, said in a statement. “We expect internet providers to identify issues before service is impacted, and to resolve outages quickly.”  

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