July 21, 2013    /    by

No Service: When the Internet goes down on vacation

No service? My Verizon connection has great all week why now? Something was wrong.

Vacation by the Lake at Camp of the WoodsIt was early on Saturday morning, July 20, 2013. I rolled out of bed and powered up my iPhone to quickly check my email, text messages and the weather forecast.

“No service? My Verizon connection has great all week – why now?” I thought to myself. “This is not what I need on getaway day after a great vacation!”

An hour later after packing our car, I was returning my Camp of the Woods cabin keys to the front desk at the Purdy Center – when I saw the long line of people waiting in the lobby.

Something was wrong.

Two ladies stood behind the counter trying to answer questions – but the growing crowd was clearly getting restless as I got in line behind about eight or nine other people.

One elderly lady summed up the situation by loudly declaring: “There’s no Internet. The computers are all down!”

“What can we do?” – someone else asked. “Why now? What happened?”

The man in front of me quietly summed up my feelings as he turned to me and assessed the situation. “Well, at least we have electricity. We’ll need to come back later – no sense in waiting around here for the computers to work.”

As the room emptied, I approached the lady behind the counter. “Can I just drop off my keys, and have you send any final paperwork later?”

“Sure,” the woman said with a smile.  “We appreciate your patience.

An hour later, after we ate breakfast and said our goodbyes, my family piled into the car for the nine-plus hour drive back to Michigan.

As I adjusted my seat, I turned and asked: “What’s the quickest way to Syracuse? Does anyone have directions?”

My daughter Katherine and wife Priscilla both pulled out their iPhones and powered them on. “Still no service, dad. The Internet seems to be down all over the place.” Katherine moaned under her breath, “No Instagram.”

I looked in the glove compartment for a map, but quickly realized that I no longer used roadmaps anymore.  So we did the old-fashioned thing. We stopped at a gas station and asked for directions.  Strangely enough, several other cars had also stopped at the same place for directions.

As I opened my car window, I could hear several conversations by the pump. “Yep, the entire county has lost Internet connectivity. Not sure how that happened.”  Two truck drivers seemed to be arguing with each other as my wife wrote down their best advice.

After about ten minutes we got on our way and headed southwest on Route 8 towards Utica. We passed at least a dozen cable/phone repair trucks along the side of the road over the next 30-40 minutes. However, we still didn’t have any service on our mobile phones for either Verizon or Sprint iPhones.

Finally, after about an hour of driving southwest, my daughter saw one bar. Within ten more minutes, we were back to full service on all of our phones, and our mobile maps were happily shouting out directions. We were back on the grid again!

(Side note: I must admit that I somehow felt vulnerable or worried when our mobile service was down. I didn’t like this feeling. I thought back to our camping on vacation with my parents and decades of living without mobile phones. Why was I now so dependent on smartphones and the Internet? Couldn’t we truly disconnect on vacation?)

Our Chrysler Town & Country was now abuzz with Facebook updates, funny tweets, email messages from yesterday, music from Pandora radio, Snapchat photos going to friends and predictions of rain ahead. Travel was back to normal for us all.

Looking back - we never did find out what caused the Internet to go down in Hamilton County NY that morning. Was it the thunderstorms from the night before? If so, why was the power still on? How widespread was the outage? Clearly, it was well beyond Speculator. How long did it last? Hopefully, all is back to normal by now.

No, this was not a huge problem for the Lohrmann family vacation. I would categorize our experience as a relatively minor inconvenience, since we got service quickly after we started driving home. Still, it does
raise questions.

How much Internet redundancy is enough in these more rural areas? Are we ready for more Internet outages? How much do we take our mobile connectivity for granted? What if the Internet really did go down for long periods of time in many areas? How would it affect you? How has it affected you already?

I’d love to hear your ‘no service’ stories.