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Verizon prodded to establish redundant landline network in upstate New York

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CANTON - Verizon phone and Internet customers throughout north country weren’t happy campers last Thursday and Friday, but officials say a large-scale service outage caused by a line break in Syracuse could spur the company to establish a redundant network that wouldn’t be vulnerable to such accidents.

Affecting 20 service areas across upstate New York, last week’s outage originated in Onondaga County’s town of Central Square, where a 250-foot section of fiber optic cable and two telephone poles taken down in an accident that happened Thursday morning outside a construction site. A large truck moving through the area is thought to have caused the break, but the perpetrator left the scene without reporting the incident.

“The assumption is that it was taken down by a truck of some sort,” said Verizon spokesman John J. Bonomo, who said workers responded at the scene at about 1 p.m. Thursday.

A replacement cable was installed Thursday evening to restore service to the network, Mr. Bonomo said, but it wasn’t functioning properly because connections weren’t being transmitted. It wasn’t until about 2:45 p.m. Friday until another cable was installed to restore service to customers.

Mr. Bonomo said Verizon was not able to track how many residents lost phone and Internet service in the north country, but the outage impacted residents in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

Despite those hiccups, though, Mr. Bonomo said Verizon responded the best it could to the incident. Without a redundant system in place — which would provide backup lines to maintain service for customers — the system will continue to be vulnerable to these kind of accidents, he said.

“We troubleshoot and trace these problems with our surveillance systems the best we can,” he said. “Our workers were there throughout the night, and I think our response was exceptional.”

Others don’t think so. Massena Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray, for example, sent a letter to express his concerns to Dierdre K. Scozzafava, deputy secretary of local government at the state Department of State. He cited the potential dangers outages could cause in the letter, such as leaving residents stuck in emergency situations.

In response to customers’ complaints, the New York Public Service Commission began collecting public comments and documents in 2010 to investigate Verizon’s service to the region. Spokesman James Denn said there’s no timetable on the study, however, and couldn’t specify whether the PSC could have the authority to mandate Verizon to improve its infrastructure.

While Mr. Bonomo said that building a redundant network in upstate New York is something Verizon is “now looking into,” he cited the high cost of doing so in the region’s rural area. Most of Verizon’s redundant networks are located in urban areas and population centers where they are easier and less expensive to install.

“Our (current) system is neither outdated nor antiquated,” he said. “It would be a major undertaking to development a redundant network here, both from a cost and labor standpoint. Additional cables can be easily built in urban areas because of the infrastructure, but you can’t do it in this territory.”

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