How Fragile is Technology, 2006, by Tim Allix
Our recent trio of storms, while bringing us an abundance of fabulous powder snow here in Whistler, has not brought good cheer to many of our neighbors in Vancouver, or those on Vancouver Island. The arctic cold front descending south, combined with the low pressure system coming from the west, has produced hurricane force winds on the west coast. This has cost hundreds of millions of dollars in damages due to fallen trees, and consequently knocked out electric power to many regions, causing considerable financial hardship to retailers who are usually experiencing the busiest week of the year, as Christmas shoppers scurry to buy gifts at the last minute.
Whistler has been lucky, though not exempt. Ordinarily, I submit this column via email; this week, I had to use something I rarely use any more – my fax machine. As we all know, there has been no internet in Whistler since Friday morning, and as of this writing (Sunday evening), there is still no internet service from either of the two local providers. The reason? The weather has taken out the fibre-optic line between Vancouver and Whistler, though there is precious little information about the severity of the situation. Rumor has it that it may be as many as ten days before service is resumed.
Keeping this in perspective, it is certainly not life-threatening to be without internet for a few days, but for many businesses it is inconvenient and extremely costly. A few of my clients, who run accommodations businesses, depend on the internet for the majority of their bookings. Many of their customers use email as their sole method of communications; the booking companies, in order not to lose business, must resort to phoning or faxing every single customer in order to avoid losing their bookings, and to reassure customers that their unanswered emails were not being ignored. Others who have been hard-hit are all the retailers whose Interac and credit-card processing terminals have been converted from dial-up to high-speed internet authentication – these businesses are unable to process bank card transactions, and have had to return to the old imprint swipers for credit cards, for the duration of the failure. What a hassle!
Walk around this town and you can’t help but notice the number of internet cafés and internet kiosks that are temporarily out of business as well. I own nine internet kiosks, and this is ordinarily one of the best times of year for usage, so I am somewhat less than happy myself.
I decided to tackle the issue head-on and find a work-around. I thought, what about returning to dial-up? So I phoned Telus and asked for the local number. It didn’t work, as I had suspected it might not, because it probably uses the same fibre-optic line that was damaged. I phoned Telus again, asking for the toll free number to Vancouver. The agent said sure, here it is, but it will cost $2 p/hour. At this point I became terse with the agent; I asked – why do you call this toll-free when you charge a toll? I also explained that a toll seemed unreasonable given the circumstances, but of course he was just an agent. In corporations the size of Telus, mere agents have no ability to provide customer service (though in my opinion, this is a casualty of modern times). Anyhow, I tried the number and it worked. If internet is still down when you read this, the so-called toll free number for dial-up is 1-877-666-1179. You will need your Telus username and password. Hopefully, you still have a dial-up modem – many new systems today ship without them.
If not, forget your worries, and just go skiing. It’s epic right now.