Rolling DSL Blackouts:
'Always On' Ain't
By Stephen M. Lawton
know what I like about my digital subscriber line (DSL) service? It's
always there. I sit down at my desk at 2 a.m., click on my Mail icon,
and zap, here's the latest spam from around the globe. Oh, yeah, and maybe
there's a note from someone I actually want to hear from.
My old dial-up
account is oh, so clunky. I have to click on the icon to dial out, then
wait an eternity, well, maybe a minute or so, for my computer to link
up. But DSL it's always there except, of course, when it's
Not always on, you gasp? You bet.
In fact, it's a gamble today to pick a DSL provider, because you need
to pick both the retailer and the wholesaler. I picked wrong a
year ago when I opted for Flashcom the retailer, and Covad the wholesaler.
Flashcom, which had great service when it was solvent, is now bankrupt,
while Covad carries on barely.
At MicroTimes' Pasadena office,
we opted for InternetConnect as the ISP retailer and NorthPoint Communications
as the wholesaler. In this case, the opposite scenario occurred
the wholesaler failed but the retailer lives on. InternetConnect and Covad
are both working to turn on the DSL spigot of the poor souls whose service
Flashcom and Covad, at least, gave
some indication that Flashcom customers had to find new accommodations.
AT&T acquired NorthPoint and, in its infinite wisdom, unilaterally
turned off the power switch to some 100,000 NorthPoint customers with
"There oughta be a law,"
I hear DSL customers cry when their service goes dark. Well, folks, there
is and there isn't. The law that does exist is called the law of
economics, and it was restated eloquently this past October by no less
an authority than former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, now chairman
of the executive committee at Citibank. Speaking at InternetWorld, he
told the attendees that while the Internet might drive economic growth
here in the U.S., don't lose sight of Old Economy rules and discipline.
In other words, if you can't make a profit, you're out of business.
While there isn't a law that requires
ISPs to give you a warning when they want to shutter operations, the California
Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) said ISPs like NorthPoint must give
customers 30 days notice before shutting off their servers. Several days
after the March 30 decision, NorthPoint was still dark, and its customers
were still cut off. It's nice to know the CPUC believes "always on"
comes with a 30-day always-off notice, even if the companies don't.
Reminder: If you're shopping for service
and your prospective ISP retailer won't tell you who your wholesaler will
be, find a new retailer.
No one knows what the full impact
the rolling DSL blackout will have on NorthPoint users, but suffice to
say that when New Economy companies lose their lifeline to the Internet,
their profits are sure to suffer. As Secretary Rubin said: Old Economy
rules still apply.