NH - Wire Glitch Means Lost Sales...Busisneses' Phones Dead For a Week

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Title: Businesses' Phones Dead For a Week

Wire Glitch Means Lost Sales

Friday, April 7, 2000

By AMY McCONNELL Monitor staff Concord

This week, the telephones of the lucky businesses rang once in a while with customers calling in - but usually not. Workers dialing out often got fast busy signals, or total silence.

And for the unluckiest of the 30 or so Concord businesses without telephone service since last Friday, the only incoming phone calls to their offices have been on the cell phones donated by their beleaguered local telephone company, Network Plus of Quincy, Mass.

At Capitol Dodge, losing incoming phone service for a week has been a "nightmare," according to general manager Hope Matthews.

"We are losing business because customers are calling us and they can't get through," Matthews said. "In a retail business that depends on phones, it's very difficult because if customers try and can't get through, what's the alternative? They go somewhere else."

The problem, said officials of Network Plus, began last Thursday or Friday in the Manchester building the company shares with Bell Atlantic. Network Plus uses Bell Atlantic's poles and wires to deliver phone and Internet service to 45,000 small and medium-sized businesses in New England, New York, Florida and Georgia.

The so-called "rollover" from Bell Atlantic lines to those of Network Plus usually goes smoothly, according to Lisa Korner, vice president of product development. But last week, some flaw in the connection between the wires started dropping the calls, she said.

"In these cases, the rollover didn't go smoothly," Korner said. "This switch, this type of transfer, is routine and to have this level of problem and this length of service outage is definitely not the norm."

Complaints, she said, surfaced Friday and hit hard Monday, with most service problems in Concord, along with a few in Manchester and Nashua. About 20 businesses in Rhode Island lost phone service this week as well, but most have been restored, she said.

In New Hampshire, 11 of the 30 affected businesses had their service restored as of 2 p.m. yesterday, according to officials at the state Public Utilities Commission.

Until all the phones of Network Plus customers are back to normal, "we'll be working on it 24-7," according to Korner. And until then, she said, the company has given cell phones to customers waiting for service.

By 7 p.m. last night, Capitol Dodge had three of its 23 lines back, according to salesman Steve Blake. But the fax machine was still loaded with messages from customers asking, "What happened to you? Are you out of business?" he said.

And he had plenty of angry customers who had gone elsewhere to buy a car when they couldn't raise a response on the phone, according to Blake.

"When you don't follow up, people think you don't care about them, and there are plenty of other dealerships out there to pick up the slack," Blake said.

Network Plus told customers it would reimburse them for expenses incurred by the loss of phone service, according to several customers.

There's really no way to track lost business, although the dealership probably lost several thousand dollars this week, according to Blake.

Of 15 potential customers this week, he said, three might have bought a car. Without his usual sales, Blake lost about $750 and the dealership lost about $7,500, he estimated.

Although their financial losses were harder to measure, other companies also suffered from communication deprivation this week.

The New Hampshire Federal Credit Union - whose members include employees of the state, the city of Concord and every county except Coos - got only a fraction of its usual calls Monday and only about 20 percent yesterday, according to Kathye McFarland, the credit union's vice president of marketing and operations.

Some calls ended up at American Satellite & Entertainment in Concord, which politely forwarded callers to other telephone numbers for the credit union. Other calls didn't get through at all, including requests for car loans and mortgage applications that are the credit union's main source of income, McFarland said.

"Sometimes they ring and it doesn't actually get to us, so they think we're just not answering the phones," she said. "If we can't get those phone calls when people are shopping around, we lose those loans."

Ron Cook, a Concord lawyer, said his firm has been "effectively out of business" for four days. Clients, unable to reach Cook by phone or e-mail for days, have taken to calling him at home in the evenings, he said.

Although Cook could sometimes find a working line to call out from the office, even that meager service has been hit-or-miss - especially when he tried to call the U.S. Embassy in Trinidad, which is helping his firm complete a business deal.

He began trying to call the ambassador to Trinidad - Concord labor lawyer Terry Shumaker - yesterday at 9:30 a.m. Every attempt got him an instant busy signal, or no signal at all.

After spending most of the morning hassling with the call, Cook called Network Plus, which he said put him on hold for about a half-hour, then finally connected him with the ambassador's secretary.

"She said, 'The ambassador is just about to go into a meeting - can I get your telephone number and have him call you back?' " Cook said. "Then 'click.' Disconnect."



-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), April 10, 2000

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