Customers and creditors of Screaming Internet were left to howl their displeasure last week after the local Internet service provider shut down without warning.
Customers said they have lost their e-mail service. The doors of Screaming Internet's office in Sundance at Fish Creek Shopping Center are locked and the business telephone numbers are disconnected. Nobody has been able to reach Screaming Internet owner Ryan Troy.
"There are all kinds of people trying to find them," said Bob Larson of AlpenGlow Ventures. Larson was the landlord for the company that operated as an "internet service provider," or ISP. Larson has posted a letter on the door of the business seeking more than $18,000 in back rent and penalties. Screaming Internet offered unlimited 56k dialup access to the Internet, including e-mail service to residential and commercial customers.
Some customers of Screaming Internet had been noticing declining service through the local ISP for periods of weeks and months, but it was just within the past week that Screaming Internet's office appears to have been abandoned.
"I came back from a vacation, and he was gone," Larson said. "We were caught by surprise, like everyone else. It's something you hope doesn't happen. We believe the premises have been abandoned."
Clay Ogden of Northwest Data Services, a computer and information technology consulting company, said only a few of his customers were relying on Screaming Internet for Internet access. His firm had never sent customers to the company because they did not deem it reliable enough, he said.
Customers of Screaming Internet are in a jam, Ogden said.
There is very little they can do," Ogden said. "The e-mail ... there is just nothing you can do unless somebody else buys that domain name. People who had Web sites or domains hosted through Screaming Internet's server -- it's not a trivial process to get that moved to another server. That can be a very difficult process. That's really tough for businesses."
Ideally, Ogden said, businesses that rely on Web sites to conduct their commerce and maintain contact with customers and suppliers should back up their sites frequently. They should take that step themselves in addition to expecting their Web hosting service to do the same, he advised. In practice, Ogden said he understands that many people will rely solely on the host to perform that function.
Corey Wood, a residential customer, was out of luck late last week when he tried to go online to make changes to the roster of his fantasy football team.
"I couldn't' get on Sunday night and I thought, 'no big deal,'" Wood said. "Then I called all day yesterday and I was kind of irritated. I use my e-mail to keep in touch with friends all over the world. I was not very happy."
The service interruption is serious for businesses that rely on their Internet access to keep in touch with clients.
Dan Retz of Security Plus said he has been aware of problems with his service on Screaming Internet off and on, but when the service went down, it was abrupt.
"It was all of a sudden," Retz said. "Thursday I had service. When I got back into town Monday," his e-mail connection was lost.
Retz said his business has clients on both coasts, and he typically gets 60 business e-mails a day.
"My clients were asking, 'why aren't you responding?' We had a secondary source (for e-mail service) and we're not as bad off as a lot of our clients," Retz said. "When something like this happens, it's got to be staggering to a lot of people."
Ironically, Retz said, his own employees were conducting a security check in Sundance at Fish Creek late one night last weekend and observed people at Screaming Internet loading vehicles. They didn't think anything of it because there were often employees there late at night, he said.
Ogden theorizes that Troy may have been caught in the shifting economics of operating as an ISP. In the past, Ogden said, start-up ISPs might have been able to advertise dial-up Internet service at loss leader prices in order to attract first-time Internet users and build a client base. However, the industry has matured, the market is saturated and it's more difficult to compete on price.
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