Wireless No More: ISP Shuts Down on Short Notice

On March 28, about 6,000 Denver-area Ricochet customers woke up to discontinued Internet service. Since notice was emailed late the night before, it’s unclear how many of them received it. It’s also unclear what happened to the Internet service provider (ISP).Ricochet provided a portable wireless-Internet service to about 6,000 people, this reporter included, throughout the metro area for monthly fees starting at $14.95.

After 11 p.m. on March 27, Ricochet sent its metro area customers this notice:

“Civitas Wireless Solutions, LLC regrets to announce we will be ceasing to operate the Ricochet(R) wireless network in the Denver metropolitan area effective March 28th, 2008.”

In some areas of the city, service was unreliable by morning.

Ricochet President Judi Evans did not return phone or email messages for comment. Ricochet’s downtown Denver headquarters has been closed.

The Ricochet email notice directed customers to contact foreThought.net in order to keep their email accounts in service.

Jawaid Bazyar, president of foreThought.net, a Denver-based ISP, said he considered buying Ricochet in 2003 but instead struck an agreement to provide email services to the company’s customers.

“Ricochet, in particular, started life with a good user base but with a technology that was on a downward trend. What happened was sort of inevitable,” Bazyar said.

Faster home and portable Internet connections have become available in recent years, Bazyar said.

Ricochet operated a “mesh” network of small boxes typically mounted to light and telephone poles throughout the city with downward facing antennas that transmitted information. Subscribers were given a card that wirelessly connected their computers to the system.

Ricochet has changed hands at least three times since 2000, according to Bazyar and Denver city officials.

The company served major metropolitan areas through the United States but,after a series of financial failures and changes in ownership,scaled back to the Denver and San Diego markets. The service made its Denver debut in 2002. Last year, the company’s owner,Terabeam, discontinued Ricochet’s San Diego service and sold its Denver operation to Civitas Wireless Solutions, said Terabeam Vice President David Renauld.

Renauld declined to comment on why Ricochet halted service in the Denver area, saying he had been in contact with Evans and knew Ricochet service would cease shortly before it went dark, noting that Terabeam has not been a part of the Ricochet business since July.

Other business associates were also given short notice with little explanation.

“They didn’t explain to us what exactly was going to cause the service to go dark,” Bazyar said.

Ricochet’s less-than-24-hour notice to its customers was “crappy,” he added.

A press release in April 2007 heralded a new agreement between Denver and Ricochet, giving the Wi-Fi company access to right-of-ways, such as medians and alleyways owned by the public, throughout the city.

Although last year’s release touted Ricochet’s role in serving police cars on the move throughout Denver, the city’s police officers only used Ricochet service before higher-speed wireless Internet service was available.

For the past few years, Denver police officers have used Verizon’s wireless service in squad cars, which is about 10 times faster than the old Ricochet service, said Darryn Zuehlke, director of the Denver Office of Telecommunications.

The city had 1,000 Ricochet wireless accounts but was only using a few hundred for employees working from home at the time the service ceased, Zuehlke said.

“When the Ricochet service shut down,the only thing that really affected us was the non-essential stuff,” Zuehlke said.

The company still has a non-exclusive, right-of-way agreement with Denver and could restart service with a different customer-base catering to businesses, Zuehlke said.

Ricochet’s email to customers also said they would be eligible for a discounted rate on Internet provided through Comcast for 12 months.

Cindy Parsons, vice president of public relations for Comcast, said the company hadn’t acquired Ricochet and did not purchase its customer list.

“It is more just an opportunity for us to provide high-speed Internet to Ricochet customers,” Parsons said.

She did not know how many Ricochet customers had signed up for Comcast’s Internet service.

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