Squirrel blamed for internet blackout

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A rodent was behind the Wednesday internet outage that brought down most of the state government websites and interrupted service for some Vermonters, a state official said.

The state's internet provider, FirstLight, informed the state that its internet connection went dark after a squirrel chewed through a fiber optic cable, said John Quinn, the secretary of Vermont's Agency of Digital Services.

A representative for FirstLight, an Albany-based telecommunications company, declined to confirm the cause of the outage. The break in the line occurred between Essex and Waterbury, the company said.

"We'd like to inform the affected customers first and have a conversation first before we would release anything publicly. So I can't comment," said Maura Mahoney, vice president of marketing and product management. She added that a "reason for outage" report was being finalized and would be distributed to customers soon.

The number of affected customers wasn't available, Mahoney said. Many state government agencies were unable to access email and their websites went down.

Crews were able to restore service to the state by 3 p.m. and repair the frayed cable within another hour, Quinn said. Service went down at approximately 9:30 a.m.

Quinn said state has a backup line for internet service, which should have kicked in when the squirrel chewed through the cable on Wednesday.

But the line, which was previously operated by Sovernet, became part of Firstlight when the two companies merged in 2017. Quinn said when this merger happened, Firstlight "consolidated" the two lines: "so we had the two different internet pipes, two roads, but they merged them halfway down."

After the back up line's apparent failure on Wednesday, Quinn said the state was considering contracting with a second internet service provider to prevent future blackouts in case of line breaks.

"It's extremely disappointing because we thought that we had built our network so things like this wouldn't happen," he said.

Mahoney declined to comment on how First Light would address the apparently faulty back-up line.

"I can't comment on customers, specifically, without their express permission," she said. "But certainly we work very closely with customers generally in terms of building resiliency into network design."

Quinn said squirrels are notorious for chewing through fiber optic cables, and The Atlantic wrote in 2011 that one telecommunications company reported the critters were responsible for 17 percent of their damaged lines.

"I think we ought to pass legalization to make sure people are feeding squirrels so they don't get hungry and start eating the lines," Quinn said. "Kidding of course."

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