State Requires Three Days of Backup Power for Some Internet Services

By Keith Burbank, Bay City News Service

Some California residents with landlines and wired internet service will have power for three days in a power outage following a decision Thursday by the California Public Utilities Commission

The decision affects residents and others such as firefighters and hospital patients in areas of high wildfire risk.

In eight months, wired service providers must meet the backup requirement for hospitals, fire departments and other critical facilities. The same applies to facilities that provide service for wireless networks and communities not well-served by wireless services. 

For all other facilities, CPUC commissioners gave wired service providers 18 months to meet the commission’s requirement. 

“We need this sort of backup in place,” said Commissioner Martha Guzman Aceves before commissioners voted. 

Commissioners voted unanimously, 4-0, with Commissioner Darcie Houck absent ahead of her swearing in next week. 

In complaints filed with the commission, some people said that “they do not have reliable wireless service and solely rely on wireline during emergencies,” according to the Public Advocates Office, which advocates for utility ratepayers.

One person from Grass Valley said that “whenever the public utility power goes off, the Comcast ‘landline’ telephone service fails. I live in an area without cellular mobile coverage, so the telephone is my lifeline for wildfire alerts and health issues.”

The resident added, “As a regulated service it seems that Comcast needs to install backup power, especially since our utility turns the power off regularly in Northern California.”

Following a request for comment from Comcast, Carolyn McIntyre, president of the California Cable and Telecommunications Association, said in a statement, “We support the Commissioners’ decision to prioritize critical network facilities and connection support for wireless service.”

But she said they are still reviewing the decision and she stopped short of commenting on the requirement to provide backup power to residents not well-served by cellphone service. 

Jim Kimberly, a spokesman for AT&T said, “We agree with the California PUC on the importance of keeping customers and first responders connected during emergencies, including power shutoffs. 

“That is why we have invested more than $8.7 billion in our California networks from 2017 to 2019.”

The Public Advocates Office urged commissioners to require providers to have their backup power in place by October 2021, which won’t be met.

But the Public Advocates Office applauded the decision overall. 

“These difficult times are making Californians more dependent than ever on our phones and the Internet for communications to telework, visit a doctor via telehealth, attend school via distance learning, and be in touch with loved ones,” said Elizabeth Echols, director of the office.

“Everyone should be able to rely on their phones and Internet during power outages, regardless of where they live or what kind of phone technology they have.”

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