Hundreds of Mother Lode Internet customers went offline over the weekend due to an outage that the company believes may have been caused by maintenance to AT&T’s broadband infrastructure.

Ben Hulet, CEO and president of the Sonora-based Mother Lode Internet, said the outage affected customers of the company’s DSL service that distributes its signal through AT&T’s network. The outage lasted through the weekend and service was restored Monday morning.

“It wasn’t anything on our end that we could figure out,” Hulet said. “We’re constantly watching it and tried to get a report from AT&T, but they don’t have anything definitive.”

Hulet said there are a number of changes being made to AT&T’s network that can sometimes interfere with the flow of data, though it works as normal 95 to 99 percent of the time.

According to Hulet, the network is shifting to a new DSL platform that will be faster and won’t require the purchase of a phone line. He said the current copper-based network is the original one used to deliver the first high-speed Internet service in the county.

“Our copper network up here is very old, subject to moisture, and requires a lot of maintenance,” Hulet said. “As they upgrade it to fiber, it’s going to get faster and better,” though he cautioned that the work could result in temporary outages.

The Union Democrat reached out to AT&T for comment but was unable to get more information by Monday evening.

Hulet said he was uncertain of the total number of people affected by the outage over the weekend, as well as one last week that reportedly left some customers without service for three days as well.

The company has hundreds of DSL “Data Pipe” customers and hundreds of wireless “Data Wave” customers, Hulet said, though he declined to reveal the exact numbers.

Mother Lode Internet was the area’s first Internet Service Provider, or ISP, when it was founded in 1994. It currently offers high-speed DSL and wireless service and is a reseller for Comcast’s cable service.

Though the ISP uses the AT&T network for its DSL service, it owns and manages its entire wireless network.

Hulet said wireless Internet has now gotten to the point where it’s as fast or even faster than cable or DSL, but coverage can be spotty in some of the more far-flung areas of the county.

“We have direct influence over (the wireless network) and don’t depend on someone in between,” Hulet said. “We feel that wireless is the future.”

Hulet said people are much more dependent on being able to access the Internet than when the company started.

For one, more people are ditching their cable and satellite TV subscriptions for cheaper online streaming services. Hulet said video traffic is now the main use of data flow on the Internet.

“It’s come a long way from the early days of the Internet when it was really just a fad for techies,” Hulet said. “We regard ourselves as probably the second-most important utility next to power.”

The ISP is adapting its business model to the changing times as well.

Hulet said he and his staff worked behind the scenes throughout the weekend to fix the problem, but soon they will have employees on staff to assist customers seven days a week as opposed to five.

“We’re working on 24/7 utility operation to support it,” Hulet said. “I think the key thing is to be there when (customers) need us.”

In the meantime, Hulet advised customers who experience trouble with their Internet connection to first unplug their modem and router and then plug them back in to clear out any old or erroneous data.

Hulet said his team can also walk people through backup procedures in the event of an outage, such as setting up a personal wireless Internet hotspot on their cell phone.

The ISP can be reached via email at support@mlode.com or by calling (209) 536-5800.

Contact Alex Maclean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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