Telecom executives face California Public Utilities Commission on outages during power shutoffs

In a three-hour long question and answer session, executives from every major telecom company in California — including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile — addressed the California Public Utilities Commission about their response strategy during the recent spate of Public safety Power Shutoffs.

Many customers have been venting on Twitter, including one Oakland resident who sent us this tweet: “AT&T has abandoned us. No phones last night and house full of smoke at 1 a.m. Cell has been out since Saturday.”

Executives explained their response strategy, including bringing generators, portable cell towers and charging stations to areas that were recently affected by a wildfire or power outages.

Regina Costa with the Utility Reform Network has been pushing for more rules and accountability from communication companies but wasn’t satisfied by their answers.

“They can make statements that they put their best effort in,” Costa said. “These are our public representatives and they’re entitled to say your best is not good enough.”

Telecom executives were asked by the commissioners about the possibility of enforcing rules on their companies in the event of an emergency, including providing mandatory power backup. Many expressed their willingness to work with the CPUC but stopped short of signing off on regulatory requirements.

“During the emergencies, these companies have to be required to provide Cal OES with real time data about the state of their networks,” Costa said.

Dozens of concerned residents took to the podium to address similar concerns.
Will Abrams, a Bay Area resident who’s house burned down in the Tubbs Fire, said he’s hopeful about the conversation and knows a solution will take collaboration.

“None of us are satisfied,” Abrams said. “I think it’s just really important that we use this as a starting point.”

None of the executives who spoke to the CPUC addressed the media after the hearing.