AT&T: Our Fiber Backhaul in PR is ‘Gone’ in Many Areas
Why is it so challenging to restore communications in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands compared to Texas and Florida? They’re islands, so getting material to them is harder. But the larger issue is Puerto Rico’s damaged electrical grid and the fact that winds blew down nearly all the island’s wired infrastructure — electric cable and fiber feeder — to the ground.
“As community clean-up efforts started, fiber feeder cable supplying backhaul were prone to being cut, creating new outages. In many areas, the fiber backhaul is simply gone,” according to company EVP Regulatory & State External Affairs Joan Marsh.
AT&T could not pre-stage recovery materials for fear they’d be lost, Marsh wrote in a blog. The carrier was able to pre-stage fuel on both islands. However getting materials to PR and USVI since the storms has been hard, given the damage sustained at the airports and because it takes boats many days to reach them. “We were able to land four commercial planes on Puerto Rico within days to dispatch crews, generators and smaller equipment, but getting our Satellite/Cell Trucks to the islands has been a huge challenge,” stated Marsh. “Air options are extremely limited due to the size of the plane needed to transport a 14,000-pound truck.”
In contrast, Hurricane Harvey was all about water and its communications recovery focused on fiber, which is “indifferent” to water. In Texas, the electric grid fared fairly well in the flooding and communications outages were more limited. In Florida, Irma caused “catastrophic commercial power failures,” and AT&T staged over 2,400 portable generators and used 390,000 gallons of fuel to keep cell sites operating, according to Marsh. Trucks with satellite and cell equipment helped in the Keys.