The massive storm that dumped about 2 feet of heavy, wet snow on December 16th and 17th left a record-setting number of broken trees, downed power lines, and even snapped-off utility poles. The Upper Valley and Thetford were particularly hard-hit; power, phone, and internet service were knocked out for a few days for the vast majority of residents.
The storm brought to light an interesting situation regarding the high-speed fiber optic internet service supplied by ECFiber to many residents. While ECFiber was restored to some residents after three days, others waited longer.
The origins of the problem appear to extend back to 2009. At that time, ECFiber, founded in 2007, was a fledgling company. In August of that year, ECFiber founder and Norwich resident Irv Thomae informed a Norwich selectboard meeting that ECFiber was struggling to attract funding during the Great Recession and was thus applying for a stimulus grant. He went on to say that, “They are working on detailed engineering studies and will need a location for a hub to service Norwich and Thetford.”
By coincidence in 2009, Thetford obtained a homeland security grant to purchase an emergency shelter generator. This would allow Thetford Elementary School to act as a regional emergency shelter in partnership with the Red Cross. The 2009 Annual Report states, “Installed a generator for the Town’s emergency shelter,” but there are no other details.
What happened next, or when, is unclear. The on-line selectboard minutes do not go back to those years. However, the upshot was that an arrangement was made allowing ECFiber to use that generator to support their optical fiber hub in a power outage. If this agreement resulted in a contract, it does not appear to be among the documents listed on the Town’s website. The optical fiber hub was then installed somewhere locally.
There were no reports of major incidents following power outages until the storm of December 2022. Then, it turned out, the emergency shelter generator was no longer working. It needed a new fuel solenoid. A scramble ensued, and the Thetford Fire Department came to the rescue by providing a portable generator, depriving themselves of phone and internet. Unfortunately, in the process, one of the hub’s controller cards was burned out. An ECFiber technician worked all day on December 19th “to provide a fix for all the phone customers served from the Thetford hub (~450 customers).”
Although it serves the shelter at the school, the generator itself belongs to the Town and not the school. It is the Town that is responsible for providing periodic maintenance to ensure its reliability. There is a service contract, currently with the company Yankee Generator, but apparently they did not do an adequate job. Town Manager Bryan Gazda is currently searching for another contractor who can provide reliable upkeep of the generator.
ECFiber has offered to take over the care of the generator, an idea that Gazda rejected. They also are willing, if permitted by the school, to install their own generator at the site, in order to safeguard their hub.