Post-storm internet outages frustrate Eastern Ontario residents

Some eastern Ontario residents who lost internet access following last weekend’s storm are frustrated, saying it has underscored the shortcomings of the digital age.

“Everything was downloaded from the internet,” said Amber McCoy, who lives in Richmond, in rural south Ottawa. “‘Go to the Internet. Go to the Internet. Go to the Internet.’ And when it’s not there, where do you go again?”

Once the storm passed, McCoy – who no longer has running water at home – began researching critical information, such as the magnitude of the storm and the duration of power outages.

She was disappointed by the lack of useful information immediately broadcast on the radio.

McCoy keeps goats on her hobby farm, but felt left out when, in her search for fresh water, she had trouble connecting to the 3-1-1 phone line. Gasoline being a precious commodity, she didn’t want to waste it by driving unnecessarily.

“You still need basic and backup communication methods to deal with this kind of scenario,” she said.

Difficult to work from home

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told residents about free Wi-Fi at public libraries, community centers and City Hall.

“I’ve heard from a number of people who are obviously worried and upset that their internet service is going down,” the mayor said at a press conference on Wednesday.

“But they really should contact their supplier. As I mentioned, we have options available for people to come. I know it’s not perfect.”

According to Bell’s website Wednesday night, most service trouble calls came from postal codes beginning with K1A, K4C, K1H and K0A, which represent parts of downtown Ottawa, Cumberland, Alta Vista and many cities surrounding the National Capital Region.

Similarly, the Rogers website says most reports come from ZIP codes starting with K1A, K0A and K4C, with internet access being the most common issue.

Orléans resident Nancy Lebrun has been repeatedly let down by her service provider for failing to meet service recovery deadlines.

“I partially work from home and need the internet and my husband works from home every day and he’s without the internet,” she said. “So it’s been quite disruptive.”

Although Nancy Lebrun’s electricity was restored after the storm knocked her out, she still does not have internet access. She said the lack of communication was frustrating. Pictured above, a neighbor stands by a tree that has come down in his neighborhood of Orleans. (Nancy Lebrun)

Bells Corners resident David Gilbert said the lack of internet access is affecting his livelihood, which involves connecting with customers virtually.

Although he heard updates about when power might be restored, he only heard a “deafening silence” about when he might have internet again.

“Is it one more day? Is it one more week? And for those who depend on the internet for all kinds of reasons, it’s a challenge.”

“Certainly some flaws”

McCoy said his internet problems were only compounded by the number of people using data on their devices, which clogged cell towers and made it difficult to access and download web pages.

With her power and the internet back, she said even a simpler web page — one without graphics — could have made critical information easier to access.

“As great and amazing as it is, during something like this, there are definitely shortcomings,” she said. “And we can’t lose sight of the importance of other channels of communication.”

A violent storm leaves traces of damage in the Ottawa area

Saturday’s storm toppled trees, damaged homes and destroyed power lines, leaving more than 100,000 customers in the dark. The strongest gust of wind at Ottawa International Airport measured 120 km/h.

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