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Days after storm, internet outages causing hardships

Some businesses across Long Island say they are

Some businesses across Long Island say they are coping with lingering phone and internet connection issues after the storm, forcing customers to have to pay with cash. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

This story was reported by Daysi Calavia-Robertson, Maura McDermott, Sarina Trangle and Ken Schachter. It was written by McDermott.

Days after Tropical Storm Isaias knocked out internet service to parts of Long Island, many business owners and residents said the ongoing lack of service was causing severe hardships.

“I can’t process any credit cards, and about 90% of the business since COVID is all credit cards,” said Steve Cohen, owner of Town Bagel, whose Plainview store was unable to take online orders or take credit-card payments due to its loss of internet service. Ordinarily, three-fourths of its orders would be online, he said. Most customers were understanding, but a few left unhappy, he said.

One cash-strapped patron got a lucky break when she spotted her friend Larry Spielhold, 63, of Melville, at the bagel shop. Spielhold served as an impromptu ATM, advancing his friend $20. “I don’t normally have cash,” said Spielhold, a marketer of window treatments.

Another lunch patron, Jack Young, 64, of Plainview said the power outage has brought his executive recruiting business to a standstill. “I haven’t worked since Tuesday night,” he said. “No internet, no work.”

The loss of internet access is especially burdensome for businesses that rely on online payments and orders, and residents who work remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Kyle Strober, executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, a real estate development lobbying group.

Across Long Island, many people “are dependent on their home phone and internet as they continue to work from home,” Strober said. Plus, he said, small businesses that rely more on online payments during the pandemic “are unable to make sales without the internet.  It is critical for our region to have a reliable and resilient telecommunication system as Long Island is especially susceptible to severe weather events.”

The association called on Friday for the state Department of Public Service to add Altice USA to its investigation into storm-related outages. The agency was ordered on Wednesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to investigate Verizon, PSEG Long Island and other companies, which Cuomo said did not “adequately prepare” for the storm and have failed to communicate well with customers.

A spokesman for the state agency, James Denn, said it will be “reviewing all major telecommunications providers on Long Island as part of our investigation.”

A spokesman for Altice USA, which provides service under the Optimum and Altice brands, declined to comment on ABLI’s demand for an investigation. Ashwin Bhandari declined to say how many customers lost internet access, but he said the company is working to restore service: “Currently the majority of service issues experienced by customers are related to commercial power outages and we are engaged with the utility companies to ensure service is restored as safely and quickly as possible.” 

Verizon spokesman David Weissman said, “We look forward to cooperating fully with the commission.” He said less than 1% of its Fios customers had internet service affected by the storm, and he said workers “continue to make strong progress in our restoration efforts.”

Those efforts provided little comfort to Long Islanders who still lacked online access.

Doreen Farber, 32, a stay-at-home mom who lives in North Massapequa with her husband, Michael Farber, 31, their 3-year-old daughter and Michael’s elderly grandmother, said they have been “trying hard not to lose our sanity” while they wait for internet service and power to be restored.

Farber said her husband, who works in medical billing, hasn’t been able to work since Tuesday.

“It’s added stress because now we’re worried wondering whether he’ll be paid for those days,” she said. “We can’t really afford so many days without pay, we’re living paycheck to paycheck.”

Huntington resident Elaine Gross, who is president of Erase Racism, said she lost power and internet at her home and also at her Syosset office. Many Long Islanders were already suffering from inadequate internet access even before the storm, she said. “The equity issues are there without COVID, without a storm, so you know they’re only exacerbated” by the latest hardships, she said.

At Duck Island Bread Company in Huntington, Robert Biancavilla, 66, worked to revive production at his bakery Friday. The power came back late Thursday, but the shop still lacked internet service. Biancavilla, of Northport, said he averages about 150 to 200 digital orders a week, and his shop’s point-of-sale system requires internet service.

“Nobody pays with cash anymore,” he said. “Kids today, they don’t even know how to make change.”

Laura Mogul, executive director of Port Washington Landmark on Main Street Inc., said that power was uninterrupted but phone and internet service were severed at the concert venue on Tuesday. “I’ve not been able to reach Optimum by phone, email or via the internet to find out if they’re aware of the outage or get an estimate on when it’s going to be fixed,” she said. “The fact that…I can’t communicate with them and they don’t communicate with me is a big problem.” 

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