CPUC President: Lack of Reliable Backup Power on Cell Towers Risks Public Safety

The state’s top utility regulator on Wednesday berated the state’s major communications providers for “significant” failures of cell, cable and internet systems during last month’s fires and Public Safety Power Shutoffs – and ordered them to explain what went wrong during a hearing later this month.

“This isn’t just a matter of inconvenience, it’s an unacceptable and avoidable matter of life or death for many who need your services at the most critical times,” Public Utilities Commission President Marybel Batjer said in ordering the leaders of the state’s eight largest communications providers to answer to regulators.

At one point last month, half the cell towers went down in Marin County when PG&E cut the power, she noted. Land line service failed entirely in Mendocino County.

In response to the breakdowns, Batjer indicated she would press for reforms of the “patchwork of statutes and outdated rules” that now govern such systems – including requirements for backup power systems.

Currently, there are no state or federal regulations mandating backup power, despite the ever increasing reliance on cell phones for 911 calls.

Batjer chided the companies for resisting backup power requirements over the last two years and called on them to cooperate instead of fighting regulations going forward.

“We no longer have the luxury of time and cannot wait any longer to address these problems,” she told the CEOs of Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T California, Frontier Communications, Comcast, Cox Communications and Time Warner.

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