Hemig: First world problem? | TheUnion.com

Hemig: First world problem?

Jim Hemig
John Hart/jhart@theunion.com | The Union

Last Thursday when I came back to the office after a meeting, the first words I heard were, “We have no Internet and no phone. Should we panic?”

As the publisher, it is my responsibility to make sure the staff can work and the paper gets out.

But honestly, the first thing I thought was what a “first world” problem this is. We had power. We had air conditioning. We had everyone in the office safe. All the computers were up and working. We just didn’t have Internet or phones.

There are many funny jokes floating around about first-world problems related to our dependence on technology. I have to confess, a few of my favorites are: “I can’t read right now because my Kindle ran out of batteries” and “I’ve looked at everything interesting on the Internet today, and I still have three hours left at work” or “There is no 3G coverage in this bathroom!”

Since the development of an improved broadband infrastructure is a hot topic in our county, we should also seek a better backup to the same services to provide a more reliable business environment.

The Internet is full of such witty irony. But losing Internet access actually creates a real problem. Currently, all of our systems go through the Internet. Without it, we were literally at a standstill.

All of our data, including stories, photos, advertisements, pages and the entire website, are sitting in a data center in Arizona. Our phone system works through the Internet, as well.

So the Internet is used for more than just Googling, Facebooking and looking at cute animal photos. It’s our complete livelihood. Having our systems in a large server farm has many advantages, including better storage capacity, better power backup and better cooling systems, all at a lower cost than what we can do in-house. But when we lose the Internet, we lose access to all our systems. I imagine we are not the only business in town in this position.

Which is why I said to my staff, “Yeah, it’s time to panic.”

We talked about options. Since only the area’s Comcast supplied Internet access was affected, we decided to reach out to our neighbors. Owens Estate & Wealth Strategies Group has AT&T, so they still had Internet — and a gorgeous meeting room. Mary Owens quickly offered a helping hand and before I could say World Wide Web, half of The Union’s newsroom was moving over to Mary’s conference room.

While getting the newsroom back to work, I found out that part of The Union’s classifieds department moved over to the Nevada County Association of Realtors office with the happy assistance of Kathy Hinman. It was great to see some of our neighboring businesses willing to help us out.

But this brings up a disturbing fact. As our community becomes more dependent on the Internet and communication services, we need to be able to count on these services. Not just for local business and witty Internet jokes, but for public safety, as well. Losing phone service could impact calling 911 or other emergency services.

The Comcast failure on Thursday was due to a fiber-optic line cut during construction at Beale Air Force Base. In the end, Comcast’s communication services were down for about five hours.

And this wasn’t the first time people and businesses in our county have lost communication services. Firefighters had to cut a line on a downed telephone pole during a January 2012 storm. Internet, cell phone, land-line and emergency 911 services were down for two and a half hours. Also, in 2006, 1,500 feet of copper phone cable was stolen, interrupting service to hundreds of Nevada County residents. Both examples show just how vulnerable the communications network is in our community.

Since the development of an improved broadband infrastructure is a hot topic in our county, we should also seek a better backup for the same services in order to provide a more reliable business environment.

Eventually, Comcast got the line repaired, and we were back to business after being down for about five hours Thursday. The paper still got out on time, which is a testament to the staff at The Union and our good neighbors.

And I was able to get back to looking up silly Internet jokes, a first-world advantage.

Jim Hemig is publisher at The Union. Contact him via email at jhemig@theunion.com or at 530-477-4299.

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