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Internet access during an outage

Those old enough to remember the days of landline phone service know that hardwired home phones didn’t need to be plugged in to a power outlet. They received their power through the copper telephone line, and thus, kept working during a power outage. In fact, a popular past time was to call your friends and chat until the power came back on. The days of traditional landline telephony are long gone now and most of our communication is done digitally over the internet. But does your home internet service still work during an outage like old telephones did?
In the instance of Empower, Craighead Electric’s wholly-owned broadband subsidiary, the answer is yes and no. Empower delivers high-speed internet service to CECC members over the cooperative’s vast fiber-optic network. These cables are bundles of glass tubes not much bigger than a human hair with laser light shooting down the core. Huge amounts of data can be delivered in this method. A single fiber has the capacity to transmit every single concurrent phone conversation happing in North America simultaneously! Many of the main trunks of CECC’s network are bundles of 180 of these fibers giving it a huge bandwidth to deliver internet, streaming television, and streaming phone service to thousands of subscribers across Northeast Arkansas.
But what happens during a power outage? It turns out, not much. The fiber network is completely unpowered and passive. As long as the devices shooting the lasers down the fiber have power and the fiber itself is undamaged, the signal will still reach subscribers homes. The problem is the devices in our members’ homes require electricity to do anything with that digital signal: the modem, router, televisions, computers, etc. IF those devices had a backup power source, they could continue to use the internet without issue.
So how to ensure you can continue to use Empower internet during an outage? The first step is to make sure the Optical Network Terminal (ONT) has a backup source of power. The “ONT” is what we call the company-provided modem/router/ethernet-switch combo device that the fiber plugs into inside of a subscriber’s home. It converts the incoming laser light into digital Wi-Fi and Ethernet signals for your networked devices to connect to. If this has power, ones and zeros will continue to flow.
APC Uninterruptible power supply
The simplest way to provide the ONT with backup power is to plug it into an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS). These devices are power strips, surge protectors, and battery backups all in one. They automatically and instantly switch any device plugged into them over to battery power when a loss in grid power is detected. Many UPS models also protect from power surges. Depending on the size of the battery and the power needs of protected devices, they could continue to power the ONT for several hours. Any personal devices that have their own backup source of power like cell phones, laptops, or other electronic devices plugged into their own APCs will be able to power up and continue to use the internet like normal. And, of course, if you own your own whole-home backup energy source like a gas generator or home battery, these devices will continue to operate for as long as your energy stores allow.