M/clear
40°
M/clear
Hi 65° | Lo 41°

Sharon Awaits Phone Service

Shown at their home in Sharon, Vt. on August 12, 2014, Francene Ellis and Jim Dyer, as well as their neighbors, have been without phone service since Friday. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker)

Shown at their home in Sharon, Vt. on August 12, 2014, Francene Ellis and Jim Dyer, as well as their neighbors, have been without phone service since Friday. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »

Sharon — Call the ongoing situation in an area of Sharon a communications problem.

For starters, almost 100 residents have been unable to use their phones or the Internet since Friday, when their FairPoint telecommunications service stopped working. To make matters worse, they’ve struggled to get solid information about the nature of the problem in their attempts to communicate with the company.

Not only do the people affected by the outage have to get in their car to find a working phone to connect with FairPoint; when they do, they generally can’t connect to a human being who can tell them what’s going on.

“There are people in the area who are over 70 who live alone,” said Jim Dyer, who lives on Carpenter Road. “My mother is 83. What if someone got hurt and couldn’t use the phone?”

Christine Rivers, a spokesperson at FairPoint, said that the company was aware of the issue and working to fix it. Rivers initially said that only seven or eight people were affected, but she later reported that the outage was affecting up to 96 customers in the area. Rivers also said that technicians were only reporting a phone outage — but many Sharon residents in the affected area reported they were without Internet, too.

“The reporting system is crazy,” Dyer said. “I called from my cell phone, and the automated service asked if that was the number I was calling about. But I can’t call from my home phone, because it’s not working. It was so difficult to just get through to a person.”

Bryana Fisk works at Tracy’s Midway Station on Route 14. She says that about a dozen customers have come through in the past couple days asking if she knew about the outage.

“Our Internet has been spotty, and our credit card machines too, since they’re through the phone service,” Fisk said. “One couple came in and said that they were told that service might be out until Aug. 18. That seems like a long time to be without phone service, without any notification from FairPoint.”

Rivers said that FairPoint categorizes customers with medical issues as “Red Alert.”

“Those customers typically have priority, and we work as quickly as we can to get that fixed,” Rivers said.

Whether that will help in this situation is unclear. Rivers said that technicians were still working to discover the cause of the outage and fix it.

“It’s a systems issue,” Rivers said. “Our technicians are currently troubleshooting it, and are working as diligently as they can right now.”

When asked to clarify what a systems issue was, Rivers said only that it was “a complicated problem.”

Jim Porter works in the telecommunications division of the Vermont Public Service Department, which advocates for utility consumers.

“A systems issue could be a lot of different things,” Porter said. “We will be following up to see what that means.”

He said that when a company has phone outages that affect more than 25 people, they are required to notify emergency dispatchers.

“I could not verify that they have notified 911,” Porter said. “They are also required to notify us, but they only did that today, and this has been going on since Friday.”

Joyce Dyer lives a short distance from her son, Jim Dyer.

“Whatever the problems are with FairPoint, we are the ones that have to suffer,” she said.

Mary Ayer, who lives on Beaver Meadow Road, said her phone and Internet service was intermittent on Friday and Saturday, and went out for good on Sunday.

“There’s also no good cell phone service in this area,” Ayer said. “What if there were a fire? You don’t have a phone and your neighbors don’t have a phone. You can’t call from a landline or a cell phone.”

Francene Ellis, Dyer’s wife, also expressed concern.

“We’re retired, but we’re able bodied and we have a car, so we can drive to use a phone,” Ellis said. “Not everyone can.”

Porter said that his division provides some oversight of businesses like FairPoint. When there are large or prolonged outages, they require the telephone companies to submit a report to the public service department. If the department finds that the telephone company hasn’t fixed the outage in accordance with certain regulations, they require the company to submit a plan of action on how they will respond more effectively in the future. Porter said that FairPoint has been required to submit two or three such action plans in the past few years.

Porter said the ultimate priority is for FairPoint to get its service working again.

“But as soon as they do get fixed, they will file a report and we will take it from there and investigate, and see if any action needs to be taken,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ellis said she is using a lot of gas, driving to her neighbors to check up on them.

“I hope we get service shortly,” Joyce Dyer said. “I don’t use the phone a lot, but it’s good to have in an emergency.”

Lauren Bender can be reached at lbender@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.