Internet provider pulls plug on users
Dec 31, 2012 (Albuquerque Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
An Internet provider's Christmas Eve letter informing customers it may discontinue service within days has highlighted the dilemma of those left without a connection.
The Dec. 24 letter from Azulstar said the company's inability to reach an agreement with an unnamed vendor over the location of equipment used to transmit signals meant Internet service may discontinue as early as this past weekend.
The company has already started helping to transfer customers to a similar provider, Azulstar's CEO said last week.
Azulstar's website www. azulstar.com says the company provides service in Albuquerque, Bernalillo, Corrales, Rio Rancho and Placitas.
Those customers, who depended on Azulstar for business and residential Internet and phone service, say they're now scrambling for alternatives.
"We'll have to come up with somebody, but exactly who, I don't know,"said former Rio Rancho mayor Jim Owen, who uses Azulstar Internet service for his printing business.
The company is working with another local provider, Agave Broadband, to continue service. It's up to affected residents to contact Agave Broadband, Azulstar CEO Richard Brouwer said, but they are working with the provider to make the transition easier.
Agave's website says it provides Internet in rural areas like Edgewood, Moriarty and Estancia.
The CEO said the Michigan-based company waited until days before the Internet was slated to be cut off because it was considering alternatives to suspending the service. He would not say what those alternatives were.
"We were hoping to continue the service," Brouwer said. "...We just ran out of options."
Brouwer also could not say how many customers were affected or how many had already made the switch to Agave Broadband.
It's unclear what recourse Azulstar customers have. The state Public Regulation Commission, which regulates phone companies, has no ability to regulate Internet suppliers, said outgoing Commissioner Jason Marks.
Marks was involved with a case in early 2009 when thousands of New Mexicans -- including some 911 services, banks and hospitals -- were left without Internet connections when Qwest cut service to SkyWi Inc. Qwest claimed SkyWi had failed to pay bills.
Marks said he recently tried to introduce a rule requiring Internet providers to give customers 30 days' notice before discontinuing service, but got no support from other commissioners. His term ends today.
The letter also said Azulstar would issue prorated refunds for any amounts overpaid.
Azulstar previously had a contract with the city of Rio Rancho to create a citywide wireless network. The contract allowed Azulstar to locate equipment on city property. Rio Rancho terminated the contract in September 2007 for failing to provide satisfactory service and ordered the company to remove its equipment.
Journal Staff Writer Patrick Lohmann contributed to this report.
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