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The day the Internet went dark in Pahrump

The Internet blackout that hit most of the Pahrump Valley on Thursday shows two things to me. First is how vulnerable our technology infrastructure can be and second is how dependent we have become on the Internet.

I’m calling it a blackout because it was actually the power that went out to the relay station on top of Mount Potosi that caused the Internet to go down across the valley for many businesses and homes.

Who thought that in 2016 that infrastructure would still be so vulnerable, or that we had become so reliant on it. From what I’ve been told some businesses couldn’t accept credit cards, some gas pumps wouldn’t take gas cards, and classrooms were left without an essential teaching tool. I also understand it impacted the local radio and television stations.

While it is unclear as I write this Thursday afternoon in Las Vegas how widespread the outage was and everyone it impacted, it forced some of the Times staff to drive nearly 65 miles to the Las Vegas Review-Journal so we could get the newspaper produced and on your doorstep Friday morning.

Like many businesses today, the vast majority of what we do is dependent on having access to the Internet with enough bandwidth to produce whatever they may produce. Credit cards cannot be run without the Internet, and apparently neither can a newspaper production schedule.

Long gone are the days of typewriters. Nearly all of the editorial content you read passes through shared files in Google Docs, before being entered into a cloud-based program and sent to Austin, Texas to be built into the newspaper. Those files are then sent to Las Vegas where the newspaper is printed, put on trucks, and then delivered back to Pahrump.

The ads are also sent over those same internet lines.

So the trip had to be made by two reporters, our proofreader and myself to Las Vegas.

I made the decision because even though we were told that the Internet connection was “anticipated” to be working by noon, my thought was, what if it wasn’t? Pushing the paper to Saturday delivery wasn’t really an option.

The right decision was made because while the connection returned for a few hours in Pahrump, it was slow at the Times office before it went out again around 5 p.m. That necessitated Selwyn Harris, who was left behind to tell the story from the locals, to email his stories from the McDonald’s behind our office.

But we got it done. Missed our regular deadline by two hours, but we got it done.

In this day and age, even with the Internet down on many desktops and Wi-Fi connections, most people can still access Facebook and Twitter and other websites from their smartphones. But it is still a little unnerving that most people can be cut off from the World Wide Web.

It reminds me of when I was driving on Interstate 70 through the Rocky Mountains in October. Right outside Glenwood Springs, Colorado, we were diverted late at night because a major accident had shut down the interstate. We were forced to stay overnight because there was no way to drive around.

Both the incidents that so easily cut off easy access we take for granted – a regular highway and the other the information superhighway – has made me take note of how vulnerable the access we take for granted truly is.

Arnold M. Knightly is the editor of the Pahrump Valley Times, who finished this column from a computer in Las Vegas at 8 p.m.

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