On the Internet highway

Telecommuters struggle with connections to enjoy the benefits of working from home

  • Telecommuter Jim Harrington of Francestown works from his home office for a computer software company based in Boston.
  • Telecommuter Jim Harrington of Francestown works from his home office for a computer software company based in Boston.

Telecommuters enjoy the benefits of working from home, but also face the challenge of finding reliable Internet connections in rural New Hampshire.

Andre Wood of Greenfield said his work day starts off the same as many others. He showers and eats breakfast, but his commute to work involves walking over to his computer and logging on. When his work day is done, he simply logs off and heads to the living room.

Being a telecommuter is a full-time job for Wood, with work eight hours a day, but it sometimes requires logging in at midnight to get a good Internet connection, because off hours, connections are sometimes better.

“If you don’t have (the Internet), it doesn’t work,” he said of telecommuting.

Wood is a telecommuter with Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P., the computer manufacturer, and he assists customers and the company with computer problems. For close to 10 years, Wood has telecommuted, and said there are huge benefits to this style of work.

“I got to see my kids grow,” he said in an interview on Jan. 28. “I get to have lunch with my wife.”

Telecommuter Jim Harrington of Francestown said he enjoys working from home, but functions out of an office separate from the rest of his house. He said it helps with not becoming distracted by laundry or other household tasks.

“I certainly prefer this than being in an office,” Harrington said. He said he doesn’t mind not working in an office, because when he did, people used to email their problems to him anyway.

Harrington is a software consultant for AECOM, a large architecture and engineering services company in Boston, so telecommuting saves him two hours of driving, he said.

The biggest challenge telecommuters face is the Internet connection, he said. When he moved to Greenfield in the early ’80s , he said he had to harass a big Internet provider to the point where they would sell him reliable connectivity. Wood now has two independent business connections to the Internet from his home, one with FairPoint and the other through the New Ipswich-based radiusNorth .

“I’ve really had to struggle to get good enough bandwidth to work effectively,” Wood said.

Working effectively includes keeping in touch with fellow employees. To maintain a team cohesiveness, Wood said telecommuters need a type of instant messenger. “You have to maintain the conversations amongst the team,” Woods said.

He doesn’t get to gossip at the water cooler. “I spend my time on the phone with [coworkers], otherwise it’s pretty much the same,” Wood said.

A telecommuter also needs to develop a phone presence. Wood said he can sense something is wrong before the person on the line says it. “I can hear it in your voice,” is something Wood says often to people on the phone.

There’s no incentive for Internet providers to make connections better in this region, Wood said . Since companies prefer to invest in places where there are plenty of customers, Wood said large Internet providers are more likely to connect people in Nashua, for example, than people in less dense areas like the Monadnock region.

It was the complete lack of Internet options that pushed Marc Spinale of Hancock to start his own Internet provider business. He founded ConVal Technologies in 2007, a year after moving to the area, to fill the gap. Spinale said he needed this connection to telecommute to a company based in Merrimack.

When ConVal Technologies merged with New Hampshire Wifi Internet Service Provider in 2009 to allow for a larger coverage area, Spinale stopped telecommuting to Merrimack and instead worked from home for the new joint Internet provider, radiusNorth. This company now provides Internet to 12 towns, including Bennington, Jaffrey, Rindge, Temple, Greenville, New Ipswich, Dublin, Sharon, Greenfield, Mason and Peterborough.

With radiusNorth, Spinale is helping to bring Internet bandwidth to homes, no matter the location. He said expanding these networks is a good investment.

Wood agrees. “Bandwidth is the new highway,” he said.

For Gary Ciocci of Peterborough, his best option for a reliable connection was to sign up with ConVal Technologies, now radiusNorth, when he first began telecommuting to offices in New York and San Francisco in 1992. Through ConVal Technologies, he received a wireless connection sent from an antenna on Windy Row.

“Internet service is not a luxury anymore, more of an utility. You have to have it,” Ciocci said.

When the company Ciocci worked for sold seven years ago, he said he was invited to join a partnership with the computer publisher Premiere Media, which publishes an online and print guitar magazine, and has an active website. He continued to use a wireless connection through ConVal up until last year when FairPoint brought a DSL connection to his neck of the woods, “which is much faster,” he said.

The programs and equipment he’s used changed a lot over the years as well he said. Ciocci said he used to rely on faxing a lot and now he doesn’t have a fax machine. When he first started telecommuting, email was just starting to be prevalent. Now he uses programs like Google Hangout to hold video conferences with other employees.

Although Ciocci said he can’t experience the hallway discussions and sharing ideas on the fly with other employees, there is a big advantage in being with his family. Another benefit for him is having an adjustable schedule, where he can work extra hours without being away from home.

Although the rural nature of the Monadnock region is a factor in access to the Internet, Ciocci knows of at least 10 to 12 telecommuters in the area.

Without a good Internet connection, though, Ciocci said it puts people at a disadvantage.

Tom Strickland, president and co-owner of Peterborough’s Sequoya Technologies, said it is essential for a place like southern New Hampshire to have fast connection to the Internet, and he is helping ensure that happens.

“We live out here in the woods and dirt roads, and don’t always get service,” Strickland said.

Strickland is a board member with New Hampshire FastRoads, which is expanding Internet coverage in parts of New Hampshire, including Rindge. The FastRoads network extends as far south as Rindge and as far north as Hanover.

Strickland said the primary network for FastRoads is built, and they have already signed up a number of service providers.

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