EZNorth Wireless and NCIC: Is the Broadband Honeymoon Over?

My last blog post was hopeful and optimistic. True broadband had come to our corner of Vermont, which we all considered a significant step forward in bringing badly needed telecommunications to our historically underserved region. Previously, most of us had been limited to dialup and the more expensive satellite service.

Everyone knows that dialup is unacceptably slow, but satellite was only marginally better in terms of speed. And satellite had other problems, including periodic (albeit short) outages due to weather and limited bandwith.

Wireless Linc, a project of the Northern Community Investment Corporation (NCIC) and EZNorth, promised fast and reliable service. NCIC is a non-profit that receives federal stimulus and state money, with a mission to foster economic development and jobs in the North Country of Vermont and New Hampshire.

We were all very excited when NCIC announced its intention to place a tower across the river in Lancaster and then mount radio signal boxes in the cupola of the Guildhall Public Library. Many in Guildhall signed contracts with the new provider. The telecommunications future looked suddenly a lot brighter.

That was six weeks ago.

The EZ North/NCIC track record so far?  Unfortunately, EZ North has encountered some serious problems in its own infrastructure. On Friday May 4, after about six weeks of relatively decent (although not perfect) service, almost all Guildhall residents, businesses and town government lost their internet connections. A few locations experienced spotty on-and-off- again restoration.

For example, my house had service for a full 12 hours early in the week, and my law office had service for 2 hours this morning. But for the most part, we in Guildhall Village and outlying areas have been on an internet blackout for one entire week. Yes, one whole week, and the problem hasn’t been resolved yet.

In spite of dozens of calls and emails to the provider, no one is still quite sure what has gone wrong with the EZ North system. Many of us get the impression that most of the EZ North and NCIC staff aren’t really sure what happened, either.

One measure of any utility provider’s competence is not the frequency of outages, but how effectively personnel manage the affected customers during the outage. Although things got a little better over the last couple of days, for the most part, EZ North gets a poor grade for customer service. There has been no comprehensive effort to communicate with customers about the scope or reasons for the outage.

No notice was posted on the organization’s website (not that many of us would have been able to see it anyway!). For most of this week, most customer messages and emails went unanswered.

No EZ North representative has been able to articulate, with any specificity, what has gone wrong, and what the plan and timetable might be for getting us all back online.

Like most of my neighbors, I’m a huge  NCIC supporter. I would frankly prefer to give my money to NCIC than some distant corporate satellite service. I think the NCIC project has enormous potential.

But as the clock ticks into our second week of internet outage, NCIC and EZ North are taking serious risks, both to their cash revenues and their credibility in the North Country.

If you’re reading this post, are a local affected customer of EZ North, please call the following numbers to let them know of your dissatisfaction. They need to hear from us!

EZ North Customer Service Line: 802-553-7361.
Northern Community Investment Corporation, Lancaster, NH: 603-788-2700. Ask for Susan Wheeler or Jon Freeman.

Here’s to better online days! (I’m writing this blog post from the public library in Lancaster, NH!)

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