‘Today’s a write-off:’ City businesses hit hard by internet, phone outages 

Disruptions crippled crucial services, forcing owners, managers to close early, taking financial losses 

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With crucial services crippled following severe, widespread internet and phone disruptions across Yellowknife Monday, several city businesses were forced to close their doors early, leading to financial loss and frustration.

“It hurt us immensely,” said Barry Bessette, manager of Borden Drive’s M&M Food Market.

Bessette was one of many business operators who saw critical Interac and Visa payment services paralyzed after internet, cable, home-phone and LTE services went down throughout Yellowknife and the North Slave Region.

Brendan Burke/NNSL photo
After moving to cash-only purchases following the outage – a move made by businesses across the city – Roy’s Audio Video Unlimited locked up hours before its usual closing time on Monday.

It was the second major outage in the span of a month. Vandalism is being blamed for both outages, and the RCMP’s federal investigations unit heading a probe into the pair of incidents.

The interruptions began around 9 a.m., when many businesses had just opened for the day.

Bessette said his store opened briefly before employees were forced to shut down operations for most of the day. The storefront opened hours later, at around 5:30 p.m., after internet and phone services had been restored.

Bessette said the closure will spell significant losses for the meat shop.

Brendan Burke/NNSL photo.
City councillor and owner of Flowers North, Stacie Smith, said Monday’s outage hit her small business hard. Like other businesses across town, Smith’s relied-upon debit and Internet services were left paralyzed, forcing her close several hours early.

Across town at the YK Centre, Roy’s Audio Video Unlimited called it a day hours before its usual closing time.

Across the hall at Flowers North, owner and city councillor Stacie Smith was preparing to do the same at 3 p.m., three hours before she normally locks up.

“Today’s a write off. It hit us hard,” said Smith, adding a “good portion,” of her small business depends on debit and Visa as payment options for increasingly cashless customers.

“Our daily (earnings are) going to be at zero because we weren’t able to take in any money,” said Smith.

Many residents angered by Monday’s outage took to social media to express frustration with Northwestel, the regional telecommunications provider.

Smith stopped short of blaming the company, but said there should be fail-safes built into the system so that businesses – particularly small businesses – aren’t brought to a standstill during disruptions.

“We need to have some short of a backup system for us because we’re sitting ducks here,” she said. “Our business sector is being hit hard.”

According to Andrew Anderson, director of communications at Northwestel, there are steps businesses can take to minimize financial losses following disruptions.

“Due to a variety of regulated and non-regulated services we provide, Northwestel will work with our customers on a case-by-case basis to ensure they are only billed for services they receive according to their terms of service,” stated Anderson in an email to Yellowknifer.

But M&M Food Market’s Barry Bessette isn’t convinced of the telecom’s ability to accurately evaluate the full scope of the financial losses suffered by businesses like his.

“It would just be words on their part,” said Bessette.

Anderson told Yellowknifer Northwestel shares the “frustration of impacted business owners.”

“These senseless acts of vandalism hurt our economy and our communities,” wrote Anderson, adding Northwestel is supporting the RCMP as it investigates the suspected criminal acts that led to Monday’s disruption.

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As the Yellowknifer’s crime reporter, it’s my job to keep readers up to speed on all-things “cops and courts” related. From house fires and homicides to courtroom clashes, it’s my responsibility to be there - day or night, rain or shine. When I’m not at court gathering stories, I’m in the office, making calls to lawyers, emailing RCMP and tracking down sources. After hours, I rely on the public to let me know what’s happening and where. Entering my second winter in Yellowknife since leaving my hometown of Peterborough, Ont., in October 2017, everyday on this beat continues to be challenging, rewarding and fulfilling. Got a story? Call me at (867) 766-8288 or shoot me an email at editorial@nnsl.com.

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