NH - Phone Glitch Leaves Businesses Hung Up, Malfunction Results in Outages in Two States

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Title: Businesses Hung Up on Phone Woes

Two Weeks Later, Some Glitches Remain

Thursday, April 13, 2000

By AMY McCONNELL Monitor staff


If you think one week without regular phone service is bad for business, try two.

That's how long Kathy and Randy Daniels have been battling phone troubles at their business, Capital Appraisal Associates on South Fruit Street.

On March 31, phones at the appraisal firm began ringing only sporadically. When banks or relocation companies or homeowners called to ask for real estate appraisals, "once in a while it worked, once in a while it didn't," Kathy Daniels said yesterday.

The couple's local phone company, Network Plus of Quincy, Mass., fixed the spotty service last week. For a day or so, all went well.

But last Friday, Daniels said, the phones went dead, cutting off scores of clients trying to buy and sell real estate from as far away as California and Florida.

With them went potential commissions ranging from $250 to more than $3,000 - and perhaps the good reputation her company has established over the last 20 years, Daniels said.

"It's total aggravation. . . . We've spent a lot of time building up this business," Daniels said yesterday from her cellular phone. "It takes a lot to build up a client base, and it doesn't take much to tear it down."

Most of the 30 or so Network Plus customers in Concord who lost service along with the Danielses had their service restored last week. But at least five local businesses are still waiting: The Danielses have the worst gap, but other companies can't send or receive faxes - or they get bumped off the Internet frequently when calls cut out.

About 30 businesses in Rhode Island also lost phone service. Network Plus, which services about 45,000 companies in 17 states, has repaired the lines of all but two or three.

Still, several Network Plus customers plan to return to its rival, Bell Atlantic, and stay there.

And at least one customer said he is considering suing to recoup thousands of dollars in lost sales.

The service failures began two weeks ago, when Network Plus shifted calls from the Bell Atlantic lines it uses to its own lines at a Manchester switching station. The so-called "rollover" usually goes smoothly, but in this case two major conduits out of thousands of circuits had not been tested properly and malfunctioned, said Network Plus president and CEO Rob Hale.

The result, Hale said, was service outages in two states and a lesson for his company.

"For 10 years we have done a spectacular job of supporting New England business," Hale said. "We have made a mistake - no ifs, ands or buts - but we have learned from our mistake and we will fix the problems."

But part of the blame for delay in restoring all service belongs to Bell Atlantic, he said.

"Bell Atlantic is not a hasty organization," Hale said. "So we should have done a better job and that's my responsibility, but we also didn't get any help."

Bell Atlantic spokesman Erle Pierce disagreed. His company had nothing to do with the service problems at Network Plus, he said.

And if Network Plus needed Bell Atlantic's help but couldn't get it, he said, the company should have complained to the state Public Utilities Commission.

For now, Network Plus is "working around the clock" to fix the remaining problems, Hale said. One company's modems and faxes were fixed as of last night, he said, and the other four companies should have normal phone service by tomorrow.

In the meantime, Hale said, the company has routed the Danielses' incoming calls to a toll-free line answered at Network Plus. Phone company workers then call the Danielses' cell phone and relay the messages.

"Everybody in Network Plus - and there are 700 hundred of us - are focused on these four customers. . . . Everything that can be humanly done will be done to fix this," Hale said.

Over at Concord Tire & Auto Service, general manager Gary Kenneson isn't willing to wait. He had already planned to switch to Bell Atlantic because of billing problems with Network Plus when his company lost phone service on March 31, he said.

After struggling for more than a week to reach Network Plus officials and switch his account and phone number back to Bell Atlantic, Kenneson finally succeeded Tuesday.

Yesterday, the phone lines at Concord Tire & Auto returned to normal. But in the interim, losing phone service raised customers' ire and cost thousands of dollars, according to Kenneson.

Elderly customers took cabs to the shop because they couldn't call in to ask someone to pick up their cars for repairs, he said. Car dealerships and repair shops, which Concord Auto supplies with parts, couldn't place orders. The company spent about 50 hours and its own money on cell phones to cope.

"I can't even imagine the amount of money and customers we've lost," Kenneson said. "During the busiest time of year to lose phone service is just devastating."



-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), April 13, 2000

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