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Vermont Looking For Answers From Wireless Broadband Provider

Great Auk Wireless customers have reported service outages, with some reverting to dial-up service.

It appears a troubled broadband service provider is still operating in Vermont, but officials say there’s a great deal of confusion over who’s operating it.

There are as many as two thousand Vermont subscribers to GAW High Speed Internet, also known as Great Auk Wireless.

Most are in the Northeast Kingdom and the Brattleboro area.

Vermont Director of Telecommunications Jim Porter says in recent weeks he’s been hearing from them about system outages and lost email service.

“Clearly something’s going on with this company that thus far has not been good for consumers,” he said.

Porter said the department isn’t telling customers to find another provider, but it is giving them a list of alternate service providers.

He said most of the information the department has been able to collect is anecdotal because it’s been difficult to find someone with the company who can answer authoritatively. 

“We have been in touch with several people who we believe have an ownership interest, but we’re not entirely sure who does own the company right now,” said Porter.

The company, which says it has more than 30,000 subscribers in New England, was founded in 2005 by two former students from Leland and Gray Union High School in Townshend.

One of them, Josh Garza, is listed as CEO at the company’s website.  But it’s unclear whether he’s still involved.

"We’re not entirely sure who does own the company right now." - Vermont Director of Telecommunications Jim Porter

VTDigger has reported that Garza is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission in relation to a digital currency company he started.

Finding the company’s owners is of particular interest to the Vermont Attorney General’s office.

The state is trying to recover $18,018 in grant money given to GAW two years ago by the Vermont Telecommunications Authority to extend service to a handful of customers in Rutland County.

The money is part of a $64,000 grant, though the remainder of the funds were never awarded.

“This office has had some difficulty finding an individual who would be authorized and willing to address the state’s demand,” said Assistant Attorney General Jacob Humbert.

Humbert said a Connecticut address given on the company’s website appears to be outdated and telephone calls have gone unanswered.

He said it appears the people who answer customer support inquiries work for an independent contractor and not for GAW.

“It’s not clear to the state that there are actually any current employees on staff,” Humbert said.

The state’s experience creates the image of a company running on autopilot.

GAW did not respond to VPR's inquiries, but one GAW subscriber told VPR his service in West Glover has been good and the company, at least in the past, has been responsive.

It’s a different story for the town of Brighton, where the water department hasn’t been able to access emails because it has service through GAW.

Town Administrator Joel Cope says GAW rents space for a broadband antenna on the roof of the town office building for $60 per month. 

He says the company is more than $1,400 dollars behind in its payments but the town is reluctant to take the antenna down.

“The antenna on the roof serves some of our citizens with their high speed internet so we have not been inclined to do that so far. We’re sitting it out and hoping that something works out,” Cope says.

GAW is also Cope’s home service provider and he says had service and email problems and hasn’t gotten much help from the company’s customer support staff.

Cope’s temporary solution to his problem is to resort to an old dial up system for email.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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