California Blacking Out: Lawmakers Wake Up to Coverage Loss

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According to the FCC, 874 cell phone towers were offline when Pacific Gas & Electric preemptively shut down power to prevent wildfires last fall. Millions of customers lost power, and some lost access to working cell phones, too, reported KTLA-TV.

 Now California lawmakers are looking into the impact of this loss – including the fact that people who depend solely on cell phones couldn’t call 911 or access emergency notifications during the natural disaster. 

This week, representatives from AT&T and Verizon will testify before the state’s lawmakers about outages and ways to prevent them. 

Telecommunications outages have worsened in recent years as wildfires have become more frequent and destructive in California, according to KTLA. A report from the California Public Utilities Commission found 85,000 wireless customers lost service during the 2017 North Bay Fires, and 27 percent of Sonoma County’s wireless cell sites were offline during the Kincade Fire in October 2019. 

According to the big four telecoms, their major hubs have between 48 hours and 72 hours of on-site backup power. Often, electric companies only give a two-hour heads up before a blackout, making it hard for telecoms to get their mobile generators in place and to keep them fueled, KTLA reported.

AT&T spokesman Steven Maviglio said the company is experienced in managing large-scale outages but noted “the power companies’ decision to shut off power to millions of Californians in October was the largest event our state had ever seen.”

“Today, we are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in our network resiliency to address these new challenges and will continue to work to ensure our customers have the connectivity they need,” Maviglio added.

January 9, 2020   

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