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These businesses help work go on during stay-at-home order

  • Matthew Burke of Preferred Computer Solutions in Peterborough repairs a laptop used for working remotely. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/6/2020 4:53:02 PM

With spotty internet service in many corners of the Monadnock region, there were already limitations for many when it came doing some of the simplest functions online.

But now, in the age of social distancing, remote learning and working remotely, local infrastructure is being tested at a rate that few are prepared for – and more will likely begin taking the necessary steps to be.

The “Digital Divide” has been a topic of discussion in area towns in recent years, with Dublin and Rindge approving measures at Town Meeting last month, while Hancock and Mason had meetings about it, but didn’t follow through with a warrant article this year.

For Tom Strickland of Sequoya Technologies Group LLC in Peterborough, he hopes the challenges and limitations that come up during the coronavirus pandemic will shine a bright light on the issues so many face.

“Getting good quality internet is just hard,” Strickland said. “But everyone should have service. This is no longer an option. It’s a must now and I hope this brings a laser focus to that.”

Matthew Burke, owner of Preferred Computer Solutions in Peterborough, has long been concerned about the access to quality internet in the region.

“You’re going to definitely see an increase in bandwidth in certain towns,” Burke said. “And bandwidth is going to be at a premium.”

Now the lack of speed and reliability is on full display.

“It’s been an issue even before this,” Burke said. “We’re living in a time, where it’s showing how reliant we are on high speed internet connectivity.”

He’s heard of people trying to take advantage of hotspots but with multiple users on at one time “they’re horrible at best,” Burke said.

For Eric Fisk of Rindge and his family, the shift to working remotely and remote learning has led to a bit more scheduling in the house.

With two high school students needing all the internet connectivity they can get during school hours, and his wife also needing to work, Fisk is relegated to off hours.

“Using the internet when school is ‘in session,’ it’s nearly impossible to do anything online,” Fisk said of his service. “Every kid who has access to the internet is online.”

And he worries about what the extra usage means for local town’s infrastructure.

“What happens if something breaks down?” Fisk said.

But after 2:30 p.m., he sees a change in his service.

“There’s almost an immediate spike in internet availability,” Fisk said. “It goes back to normal.”

Internet usage times are based on need in the Fisk house, so dad usually gets later in the day.

“But I’m fortunate enough to pick and choose when I work,” Fisk said. “So if it’s not available, I’ll find something else to do.”

Not all of his work requires the internet, like building web pages, graphics and editing audio for his podcast, so he has plenty to keep him busy during the daytime hours.

“Who knew 20 years ago when I moved here you’d be able to even do this, where this is even an option,” Fisk said.

Scott Hecker lives in a 115 year old cabin in Temple and said his internet is good enough to Skype and Zoom. Working from home is nothing knew for Hecker, who is Director of Bird Conservation and the Shorebird Initiative at International Conservation Fund of Canada, based in Chester, Nova Scotia.

Despite the increase in need for internet access, Hecker hasn’t noticed any changes to his ability to work or the work of the charity fund, whose goal is to advance the long-term preservation of nature and biodiversity in Latin America and the tropics.

He understands the challenges that can come up for those new to working remotely. But even with some hiccups, Hecker sees this time creating a shift to more working from home models.

“I’m not a professional that could show you the data, but that’s just my gut instinct,” Hecker said.

While the internet connection is one thing, Burke said many people have found that their home computer wasn’t able to handle the increased needs due to working remotely.

“Now they’ve got to rely on it,” Burke said. He’s seen an uptick in new computer sales, despite the fact that “they actually cost a little more than they did a month ago,” and the supply isn’t what it typically is.

“Usually it’s a two or three day shipment, now we’re looking at about a week,” Burke said. “Being able to supply it now is difficult.”

While some repairs are not worth it, he cautions customers that a new computer will only do so much.

“No matter what computer you’re buying, it will mean nothing for your connection,” Burke said.

Burke is still working limited hours and is open for repairs and purchases, as well as home visits if needed. And if customers are concerned about going into the store, Burke said he would arrange a way to drop items off in a safe manner.

As providers of complete IT service for businesses, Strickland has seen an uptick in requests from clients.

“We’ve been really busy because suddenly everybody wants to work remotely,” he said.

But getting everyone set up is much more than a push of the button.

“There are ways to do it that are secure and there are ways that are not,” Strickland said. “And there’s certainly some urgency. It’s not hard to do, but it’s important.”

While they already provide about 100 connections for business in New Hampshire, Florida and New York, Strickland envisions more calls could come in.

“I’m sure there will be a few more. It depends on how long this goes,” Strickland said. “If this goes on much longer, people will need to be able to do more.”

Surprisingly enough, Burke hasn’t received a single call for network trouble shooting, but is more than capable of going out. He uses gloves and masks, along with hospital-grade sanitizing wipes. In support of hospital workers and first responders, Burke is offering free labor for any repairs.

With work specific programs available in the office only, Strickland’s team must install programs that give employees and business owners a safe way to log into the office from their home computer.

“It provides a security barrier between the remote machine and the desktop computer,” Strickland said, whose staff immediately began working remotely and were already set up for it.

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