Rochester wrestles with city phone service

City switches from analog to digital phone system

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published September 4, 2019

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ROCHESTER — Residents have a new set of phone numbers to add to their contacts for the city.

Rochester City Manager Blaine Wing said the city’s nonemergency phone system unexpectedly went down for a little over a week in late July due to a nationwide issue with the city’s phone provider, Windstream. 

City officials were already in the process of updating the phone service — switching from the current analog phone system to a new digital system — when Windstream filed for bankruptcy after losing a federal lawsuit. 

“The current analog vendor actually went bankrupt, so we lost service for about a week,” Wing said. “We were anticipating the old system phasing out; the bankruptcy was just not on our radar.”

In Rochester, city officials were unaware of the bankruptcy and the loss of service until city residents notified administrators that they were getting busy signals when calling the city’s nonemergency phone lines July 23. Officials were able to temporarily divert calls to the Public Works Department, which was not affected by the loss of service because it uses a different phone provider. 

While the outage affected the rest of the city’s nonemergency lines — including the nonemergency lines at the Rochester Fire Department — Fire Chief John Cieslik noted that the city’s emergency lines, as well as the Rochester Police Department’s phone system, remained operational throughout the outage.

“The bad news was, we didn’t even know that the phone service wasn’t working until it got kind of quiet here with the phones not ringing, and then we did some checking and found out that the phone system was down, so we called to get it fixed and nobody came to work the phones,” Cieslik said. 

City administrators then did a little digging online and learned about the bankruptcy.  

On July 26, the city published on its website a dedicated cellphone number for residents to use so that calls could be handled between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Officials were finally able to switch over to a new temporary provider — offering a digital phone system — July 31. However, the city had to be issued new phone numbers for City Hall and the Fire Department, which Wing said it published on its website and shared via social media.

Finance Director Anthony Moggio said the new numbers have created a bit of a buzz among city residents over the past few weeks.

“It is a super hot topic that we are getting at the front office, but we will eventually get our old numbers back. … Everything has been submitted. It’s a process,” he explained.

On Aug. 12, the Rochester City Council unanimously agreed to award a five-year phone system contract to CTS Cos., which Moggio said will save the city approximately $37,000 per year.

“Overall, it’s a cost savings — we get some built-in redundancies, we get an updated system,  and we get some more capabilities and for emergency planning as well,” he explained. 

Moggio said that if a part of the new phone system goes down, there is an automatic-reroute path to keep the phone lines operational.

Councilwoman Nancy Salvia thanked administrators for including the redundancies in the new system. 

“It’s very important that we have phone service for residents,” she said during the meeting.

The current phone number for City Hall is (248) 733-3700. 

The current nonemergency number for the Rochester Fire Department is (248) 841-4139. Anyone experiencing an emergency is encouraged to call 911. 

For more information, including a complete list of the new city phone numbers, visit rochestermi.org.

Call Staff Writer Mary Beth Almond at (586) 498-1060.

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