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Complaints, losses, frustration aired over telecom outage
As many as 50 local businesses suffered combined losses totaling $175,000 or more during the 10-day telecommunications failure of early November, according to Brendan Cowan, director of emergency management for San Juan County and the Town of Friday Harbor.
Monetary losses of local businesses were among a long list of complaints and problems brought before the state Utilities and Transportation Commission Monday, Dec. 9, as part of its investigation into the widespread outage and the response by CenturyLink, the single-largest provider of telecom services in the San Juans and owner and operator of an underwater fiber-optic cable that ruptured and shutdown much of the islands voice, internet and 9-1-1 services starting in the early morning hours of Nov. 5.
A lack of information about the outage itself and what steps were under way to repair the cable proved a source of frustration for many.
Friday Harbor Town Administrator Duncan Wilson said CenturyLink showed a "lack of initiative" in getting information out to the public and the news media, calling the information that was provided "muddled at best."
Roche Harbor Resort General Manager Brent Snow was even more emphatic.
"Communication [with CenturyLink] was weak and unacceptable," Snow said.
The UTC spent nearly three hours reviewing the facts and frustrations of the 10-day telephone and internet service outage. David Danner, chairman of the commission, said the hearing was part of a "thorough investigation of the cause of the service disruption and of the adequacy of the emergency preparations and response" of CenturyLink, especially focusing on the disruption to 911 emergency services in the county.
Economic Development Council Executive Director Victoria Compton said economic damages, including two real estate transactions that were lost and business relocation expenses in response to the outage, might well be significantly larger that Cowan's estimate. Mike Greene, president of Rock Island Technology Solutions, believes his company, a reseller of CenturyLink internet services, will have to refund $14,000 to customers and may suffer direct and indirect losses of about $31,000.
At the hearing, CenturyLink announced it would credit its customers for the loss of service during the outage. The company also said that the bill for fixing the fiber-optic cable totals about $2 million.
Neither the credit nor the cost did much to mollify more than a dozen islanders who came forward to testify.
"Failure to communicate" and "redundancy" were common themes raised by local officials, business owners and citizens at the hearing, which the UTC convened in the county council hearing room in Friday Harbor as it investigate the cause and the effects of the outage.
"Frustration" at the lack of information was mentioned by many who testified.
Tim Grigor, Vice President and General Manager for CenturyLinks western Washington region, and Tim Reynolds, regulatory affairs manager, gave an account of the outage from its inception in the early morning hours of Nov. 5 to restoration of full service by Nov. 15. Grigor said the company was already working on providing "diversity of service" options to the island, but did not specify the capacity or schedule for the redundant service.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Danner thanked the audience for "valuable contributions" and said the commission would report on its conclusions early next year, which could include further rule-making regarding the adequacy of CenturyLink plans and facilities to ensure that public safety requirements are met by providers of emergency communications systems, including 911 services.