The City of Thorne Bay experienced a day-long wireless Internet and cell service outage last week. Apparently, that’s not a rare event in that small Prince of Wales Island community.
Residents of Thorne Bay are getting a little tired of frequent cell phone and Internet outages that they say are caused by aging equipment.
“Cellular service in Thorne Bay is basically limited to ACS. ACS shares a tower in Thorne Bay with AP&T. And for some reason in the last several years, the equipment continues to fail in this tower,” said Wayne Brenner, the city administrator for Thorne Bay. “The result is, the citizens of Thorne Bay basically have no cell service or Internet service if you are on wireless. In this day and age, that’s a good share of the people, including the city’s emergency services.”
Brenner said the outages are not only frequent; they last a long time – from 24 hours up to three days.
“It’s getting people here very, very upset that the old, obsolete equipment that’s here, both AP&T and ACS just continue to let it just deteriorate, and the people here in town get penalized for it,” he said.
Heather Cavanaugh, an ACS spokeswoman, did not respond to requests for a telephone interview on the topic by deadline Wednesday. In an email, she wrote that a recent outage on Feb. 28 was due to microwave errors with a third-party vendor. The company restored service after just shy of 24 hours.
In her email, Cavanaugh writes that Alaska Communications Systems is committed to providing the highest level of service to Alaskans, and the company thanks the citizens of Thorne Bay for their patience.
Patience might not be the right word, though.
“We are very, very frustrated,” said Brenner. “It’s a huge impact to our economic development. People here need to have cell service. Need to do business, need to be able to do it with phones. Everybody knows land lines are kind of a dinosaur, becoming obsolete. For us to keep up with everybody else in the country, we need to be able to have good, wireless communication, not only speaking on the phone but Internet service.”
Brenner said Thorne Bay officials and the Prince of Wales Island Community Advisory Committee are talking with state lawmakers about the issue, focusing on public safety through adequate communication for emergency response services.
He added that Southeast Conference also is addressing the issue.
“All we want is service,” Brenner said. “That’s all we’re after. We’re not trying to point fingers at anybody; we’re not trying to cause any problems. We just want to be able to have service. We understand things go up and down, but we need to have good Internet service. Back in the old logging days, that was fine, but this is a different world today.”
Alaska Power and Telephone’s Director of Internet Services Bryant Smith said he has talked with ACS representatives, and knows they take the service issue in Thorne Bay seriously.
Smith noted that ACS’s merger with GCI to form the Alaska Wireless Network means the business is changing. He believes it’s possible that new equipment needed to solve this issue will be available sometime in the near future.
Thorne Bay is home to about 600 residents.