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ISP leaves rural users cut off

Aramiska vanishes from worldwide web

ISP Aramiska unexpectedly shut down services on Friday leaving customers, many in rural areas, without service.

Aramiska launched services beginning with the UK in 2001, using satellite technology to bring internet access and other services to small and medium-size businesses. It targeted customers in areas that did not have access to broadband technologies such as DSL.

On Friday, Aramiska posted a note on the customer care page of its website simply stating: "We regret to inform you that Aramiska and its services are shutting down and the company will be unable to provide you with internet access after today, 27th of January 2006."

Calls to the company have not been answered.

Other ISPs and organisations in some regions have offered to help out businesses that might be stranded by the shut down. An online forum about the Aramiska situation hosted by CBN (Community Broadband Network), an organisation in the UK that supports initiatives that create community broadband networks, contains many offers from ISPs willing to quickly set up new service for affected users.

Scotnet, an ISP in Scotland, is offering free service for three months to former Aramiska customers, said Stuart Glendinnang, a director at Scotnet. The ISP uses DSL to deliver service. "Over the past 12 months or so the availability of ADSL broadband has become far greater across Scotland," he said. That means that some Aramiska customers that used the satellite service because there was no alternative might now be able to get service from DSL. If DSL is available to the businesses, Scotnet expects to be able to start delivering service in three days.

Aramiska also supplied services to other ISPs, including Ehotspot, which targeted rural communities in Ireland and the UK. Most Ehotspot customers are now without service, according to a note on the ISP's web page.

As many as 200 businesses and community broadband networks in the UK have been affected by the closure, said Malcolm Corbett, chief executive at CBN. One ISP customer of Aramiska supported 36 UK villages, he said.

Some UK regional development agencies may be able to offer some assistance to some businesses, said Corbett. In Yorkshire, for example, the economic development agency is working out a plan to try to ensure that former Aramiska customers won’t have to invest in new equipment when they switch to another provider, he said.

CBN plans to release a list of satellite providers in the UK soon who might be able to quickly restore service for affected customers.

While some former Aramiska customers who posted notes on the CBN forum said they suspected that Aramiska might be struggling, the shutdown, mainly due to its lack of advance warning, seems to have caught many customers by surprise. Aramiska's website still lists a number of open jobs the company wishes to fill.

Aramiska offered services throughout Europe and in early 2004 became a partner in an EC-sponsored project designed to bring internet access to rural areas of Europe.

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