By John McDaid, Portsmouth
For more than two weeks, scores of Portsmouth residents have suffered internet service interruptions due to an outage at Cox Communications. In conversations with customers, Cox has acknowledged the outage, but has offered no explanation and “no estimated time when service will be restored.”
“People can’t work from home, shop safely, or keep in touch with loved ones,” said John McDaid, who uses Zoom to teach his college classes. “This is the middle of a pandemic, with new, more-contagious viral strains circulating, and Cox is making it more difficult for me and my neighbors to stay safe.”
“This is a major utility outage,” said McDaid, “And should be treated with the same sense of urgency as the 2019 gas outage in Newport.”
The problems began, residents say, around two weeks ago, when they began to see extremely slow internet speeds and intermittent time-outs and failures. Several have been performing speed tests on their connections, and although they have contracted for 50-200 megabits of download, some are seeing 1-2 megabits, with some upload speeds under 200 kilobits. According to Zoom’s support page, the minimum speed required for a multi-person conference is 1 megabit up.
Portsmouth residents like Holly Delanoy of Common Fence Point and Keith Brown of Island Park have been complaining on the Facebook group “All Things Portsmouth” and on the Nextdoor site devoted to Common Fence Point in the northern part of town. Multiple residents have reported the inability to work or teach from home. Erin W. from Newport said, “I can’t get anything beyond “our technicians are working on it, sorry for the inconvenience” – no idea when I’ll be able to do my job properly again. About to head into a 1.5hour meeting using my mobile data.”
Barbara Gee, from the Bristol Ferry Road area, said, “We lose the internet at least once a day – we unplug, re-plug, unplug… you know the routine. We even got a new router from them because I was so unhappy. We pay for the “fastest” internet but it is consistently “unstable.”
Susan Tunak, who lives in the Common Fence Point said, “I work at home and everything has been extra slow every day. I also use a headset through my computer and I’m often told that I keep cutting in and out, so not only is work production affected, so is communication. It is very difficult to work under these conditions.”
Multiple residents have reported the issue both to Cox and the RI Public Utilities Commission. Cox representatives have also resisted calls to adjust all customers bills, saying that people must call one-on-one.
“If this were any other utility,” said McDaid, “There would be news coverage and political pressure to resolve the issue and deliver the services for which Cox has a local monopoly.”
As of Tuesday, 2/16, Cox customers are still being told, “Our technicians continue to work to resolve the problem in your neighborhood. Currently, there is no estimated time for when service will be restored”