When satellite broadband provider Aramiska shut down its service with just hours' notice late last week, a number of rural networks and businesses too far from local exchanges for traditional connectivity suddenly found themselves plunged into broadband blackout.
eHotspot, which partnered with Aramiska to bring broadband to the countryside, told ZDNet UK sister site silicon.com it was just as surprised as customers at the satellite company's sudden cessation of service.
Jon Sprank, the managing director of eHotspot, said: "eHotspot would firstly like to apologise to our customers for lack of service. This came as a bolt from the blue with no notice — we have suspended all billing to our customers. This has only truly been dropped on us and we are currently spending our time sourcing an alternative backhaul supplier."
Some Aramiska customers have already decided to start making their own previsions for a new service provider.
William McMahon, who works for a community broadband supplier in Ireland, said he initially didn't believe the email announcing the dramatic cut-off.
McMahon said: "We completely dismissed it, believing it was spoofed. The email did not look formal, no name was signed to it and no one believed such a timeframe. At 1500 all our sites went down — we couldn't believe it. We have been working all evening looking for alternative solutions but it may take two weeks before things will be back to normal."
Luckily, for some customers, other avenues of access are now available. Paul Robinson, who works for a production company in rural Hertfordshire, said: "Aramiska was our only option until about a year ago, when ADSL came out as far as us. What a cheek. I can't believe that a company can stop a service like that so sudden — it's like someone turning your electricity off without warning or cutting the phone lines. Luckily, we repatched through a newly installed ADSL line but if we didn't it would have been a nightmare."
Several users are demanding compensation from Aramiska, with many now-offline businesses fearing they may lose customers as a result.
Aramiska user Andy Birch said: "All I can say is that I would like to link up with others who have been left in the lurch, try to ascertain if any of the people in charge of this bunch of jokers can be held personally liable in any way and sue the pants off them. We are now scrabbling around for alternative providers to try and get our translation business reconnected before our clients start looking elsewhere."
The Community Broadband Network (CBN) is now organising efforts to try to get Aramiska customers back online as quickly as possible, and is seeking an alternative satellite broadband supplier for those rural users who have found themselves with no service.
Adrian Wooster, director of the CBN, said: "The Aramiska issue totally caught our members unaware, and is causing many problems for rural businesses beyond simple connectivity; the Aramiska service was also hosting many Web sites and has been offering file storage capabilities for businesses."
He added that a number of Regional Development Agencies had been in contact with the network to offer support. Even Aramiska has offered to muck in, Wooster said. "Aramiska themselves have offered us what help they can, although clearly this is likely to fall short of a resumption in service."
Users who have been affected can find more information from the CBN here.
Aramiska could not be reached for comment.