Thousands in WVA Still Without Phone Service

After an outage Tuesday morning knocked out phone service to an estimated 20,000 locations in West Virginia, FiberNet -- the company whose systems failed -- is still working on the problem over 24 hours later. Hospitals and police departments have been given priority, however, and most had phone service restored early Wednesday.

The catastrophic failure occurred when both primary and backup equipment failed. A multiplexer that routes calls, which was 8 years old, was supposed to switch to a redundant path but did not, FiberNet says.

In turn, the company had to bring in new equipment and now says it must provision each phone line one-by-one. Many customers won't see service restored until Thursday, and businesses aren't happy.

Many businesses rely on telephone lines to run credit cards, requiring them to use manual swipe machines instead. Some restaurants, especially pizza parlors, found themselves unable to take phone orders and therefore had no customers on Tuesday. Lottery machines were also down.

However, most critically affected by the outage were the emergency services that were unable to communicate. Hospitals resorted to using cell phones to reach physicians and 911 call centers were offline for sometime Tuesday. Charleston MedBase, which coordinates ambulance and medivac services, was offline for an extended period as well.

Some hospitals resorted to setting up separate phone lines and numbers on different providers such as Verizon. No injuries or deaths were attributed to the lack of phone service, thankfully.

According to a statement by FiberNet, "The new equipment has arrived and has been installed. It has been determined by the manufacturer that this was an equipment failure that never should have happened. FiberNet personnel are in the process of installing customers into the new equipment."

As of early Wednesday, about 50% of customers have had phone service restored. FiberNet says it is working "around the clock" to provision the remaining customers and get their service up and running.

The West Virginia State government has not made any comments regarding the outage, but an investigation is sure to follow. Nonetheless, the incident serves as a sobering reminder that our reliance on technology can have far-reaching negative consequences if a single system were to fail without working backups.

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