California’s big phone companies could face future penalties, if they don’t fix home telephone outages quicker.
A State Senate panel grilled the heads of AT&T and Verizon about why thousands of customers lost their landline service during December’s heavy rains and why it took up to a month to restore service to homes and businesses.
“The service outages experienced in Southern California, were caused by significant heavy rainfall,” AT&T VP Bill Chubb told a special hearing on the outages, held in downtown Los Angeles.
But NBCLA has learned that AT&T and Verizon’s poor service records began long before the heavy December rains.
Evidence we obtained show both companies have often been slow to fix phone outages, and that situation just became worse when heavy rains hit our area.
The reason appears to be twofold: AT&T and Verizon both have networks of old cables and wires that technicians say should have been replaced years ago, and now fail during rains. Also, both companies have significantly cut their workforces, which repair landline service.
At Friday’s special hearing, politicians and customers demanded more information about the recent massive outages.
“We all need some explanations about why this happened and how it will be prevented from ever happening again, said Dick Jalkut, CEO of TelePacific, a company that provides AT&T and Verizon service to small businesses, many of which lost their landlines during the busy holiday season.
But documents NBCLA obtained show repair delays have been a problem for the two phone companies during all of 2010, even the dry months.
Both phone companies have made a promise to the California Public Utilities Commission, that when there’s an outage, they’ll restore service within 24 hours.
Records provided to us by a State Senate committee, show that Verizon and AT&T failed to meet that throughout 2009.
In some months, AT&T on-time record for repairing outages was less than 40%.
“There are simply not enough technicians to restore service in a timely manner,” said Jim Weitkamp, of the Communications Workers of America, which represents technicians at both companies.
At the hearing, both Verizon and AT&T pledged to do full reviews of the outages to find ways of avoiding a future service disaster.
“We are very concerned about what can we do now to learn from this experience, said AT&T’s Bill Chubb.
If the phone companies don’t come up with plans to provide better landline repair service, they could face fines.
Later this month, the head of the Public Utilities Commission will report to the legislature, about the possibility of reinstating automatic fines if the phone companies don’t meet their service goals.
Until 2009, the PUC would fine landline service providers if they weren’t providing quick repair service.