Bolts toast computer modems
By ALEX LEARY
© St. Petersburg Times,
The storm that swept through Citrus on Friday morning was a dud, it seemed, sending only a few trees to the ground. But with insidious precision it claimed victims.
A hasty call to the computer shop revealed the problem: A sudden bolt of electricity surged through the phone line to their computer and zapped the modem.
"Once it gets hit, it's fried, it's in the trash," said John Spangler, a technician at Crystal River Computer, which replaced six modems in the aftermath of the storm.
His counterparts at various other computer shops said they are replacing handfuls of modems this week.
Conventional wisdom suggests you turn off electronics during a storm, and many people do, decreasing the likelihood of wider computer problems.
But electricity can travel through phone lines and damage a modem whether the computer is on or off.
"After every storm that rolls through here with adequate lightning, we take calls from people with fried modems," said Richard Howell, network administrator at Shadrach Enterprises, an Inverness Internet service provider.
The affliction has become increasingly common as more people buy personal computers and log onto the Internet. Most of these novices neglect to read the fine print.
"Nowadays people buy computers because they have to have their e-mail. They don't take time to learn maintenance and upkeep," said David Coovert of Crystal Wind Communications, an Internet service provider in Crystal River.
Computer gurus are glad to take your business -- they stock up on modems during the summer -- but the problem can be countered.
The best advice (and least costly) is to simply unplug your computer and disconnect the phone line whenever the possibility of lightning looms.
But that can be a pain, and such wisdom is easy to forget. A surge protector, therefore, may be the best bet.
Most people know that surge protectors help protect electronics against sudden bursts of electricity -- hence the name -- but did you know that some are equipped with phone jacks?
Surge protectors can be bought at most retail stores, such as Wal-Mart and Kmart, and some computer suppliers sell them as well.
They cost between $25 and $100, or even more, but they pay for themselves after a few storms. A new modem will cost up to $100, including installation.
Experts say these devices are effective but not foolproof. If you are really concerned about overall protection, you should invest in something called a UPS, uninterruptible power supply.
These devices can be stored under a desk and contain batteries which provide backup power -- five to 30 minutes -- so you can save any documents, or the 500 word e-mail to Grandma, before shutting down the computer.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111