Windstream internet outage knocks businesses offline

8:18 PM, Jan 2, 2013   |    comments
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An accidental fiber cut near Chattanooga cut several companies across East Tennessee off from any internet and telephone service.

The outage hit customers of Windstream, a national internet and telephone provider based in Arkansas that primarily serves businesses.  The fiber cut happened Tuesday afternoon near Ooltewah, Tennessee, and left organizations throughout East Tennessee off the grid until around 2:30 Wednesday afternoon.

"It was a situation where we're thinking we can't feed the hungry right now because of this challenge," said Elaine Streno, executive director of Second Harvest Food Bank.  "Our website was down and we had no telephone for pantries to contact us.  There has been a little fear involved because no one could get in touch with us and they didn't know what the heck happened to Second Harvest."

"We provide insurance services for community banks and we could not do anything without internet access," said Earl Whaley Jr., CEO of Earl Whaley and Company.  "It is devastating to us."

Other businesses cut off from the outside online world included several media outlets. 

The Mountain Press Newspaper in Sevierville posted a message on its website Wednesday to explain its telephones were not working due to the outage.  The lack of telephone and internet service also made for an interesting day at some Knoxville radio stations.

"Normally in the morning we get a lot of calls, so we were just thinking everybody hates us today," joked Jason Bailey, owner and general manager of Tennessee Sports Radio 1180 AM.

The Windstream outage left Tennessee Sports Radio listeners with no access to the station's website or smartphone app.  It also meant the station hosted several hours of call-in talk shows with no telephone lines to receive calls.

"Fortunately, we have a lot of guys who know a lot about sports and we could fill the time without phone calls," said Bailey.  "It was kind of old school.  We went back to the 80s this morning. If I only had some records to play."

The experience was not entirely reminiscent of the 1980s as businesses used personal cell phones to stay in contact with customers.

"We asked people to tweet us any comments or topics because we could use our iPhones," said Bailey.

"Our staff, we put it out on Facebook and then the media called us so that's the beauty of being able to get to the internet on our cell phones. If not, we would have really been stuck," said Streno.

Scott Morris with Windstream public relations indicated the fiber was cut in a third-party provider's network by an electric company in Chattanooga.  Traffic was rerouted to a different part of the Windstream network and service resumed Wednesday afternoon.  The outage was deemed "substantial," but Windstream did not provide an exact number of customers affected.

Some customers in East Tennessee said they are now pondering whether to voluntarily disconnect from Windstream and find a new provider.

"It is very frustrating and it has not been the first time with this company to have an outage," said Whaley.  "It has usually been something more local instead of this widespread, but it has affected us before."

"If Windstream would let me out of my contract I would change," said Bailey.

"It's just been a really yucky day for a lot of people," said Streno.

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