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Living with Technology / Not so 'Opitmal:' The night the Internet died

Updated 11:43 am, Wednesday, August 21, 2013
  • When we need Internet services, we really need them, says Westport News columnist Mark Mathias. Some have called Internet service a utility, much like phone, water, sewer and electricity. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News contributed
    When we need Internet services, we really need them, says Westport News columnist Mark Mathias. Some have called Internet service a utility, much like phone, water, sewer and electricity. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Sunday evening, Cablevision's "Optimum" service (television, phone and Internet) went out for a few hours.

Here in the Northeast, we're used to outages when we have storms, floods and other disasters. But for it to just go out for no apparent "act of God" reason is unusual.

We became aware of the outage because my kids were unable to watch TV. After checking a second TV that had no picture, it was pretty obvious that the problem was not in our home.

Subsequently checking our Internet service, we discovered that it, too, was not functioning.

We discovered that or mobile phones worked, so we had some Internet capabilities, but only limited.

But what if the Internet stopped working altogether?

Over the past 20 years, we have gone from the Internet being a novelty for geeks to an essential part of people's lives as well as the global economy.

While many people rely on Internet for emails and Facebook feeds, a large number of our phone calls now traverse the Internet, we buy more and more stuff using the Internet, more of our entertainment comes over the Internet, even some emergency services such as alarm systems require Internet services.

It's no surprise that most people are constantly reachable, typically through the phone/smartphone that they carry with them.

While not exclusively true, younger people seem to use far more texting and social media than phone minutes on their smartphones.

On the other end of the spectrum, some people actually go out of their way to get away from communicating with others. This can mean going to a location that either doesn't allow electronic devices (most summer camps have this policy) or to a distant geography that isn't covered by a cell tower (Getting hard and harder to do. Most of our National Parks even have mobile coverage.)

But when we need Internet services, we really need them. Some have called Internet service a utility, much like phone, water, sewer and electricity.

As we've discovered during major weather disasters, people can frequently live without power in their homes, but I know that during hurricane Sandy when our generator was humming and for some reason our Internet service remained online, we were a popular place for our neighbors to stop by and charge up their devices and check their email.

At some point, I believe Internet services will be considered an "essential service" and will be regulated as such because of its importance to business and society.

Mark Mathias is a Westport resident and has worked in information technology for more than 30 years. His "Living With Technology" appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at: livingwithtechnology@mathias.org