Telecommunications companies are looking for ways to improve their own infrastructure to service customers as PG&E’s planned shut-offs loom over the next decade. 

Coastsiders knew their power was at stake over planned shut-offs in October. However, many weren’t prepared to also lose cell service, internet and cable operations.

According to data from the Federal Communications Commission, about 3 percent of cell sites on Oct. 27 and 7.5 percent on Oct. 28 in San Mateo County were out because of a shut-off that began on Oct. 26. That doesn’t mean, however, that a corresponding percentage of wireless services were down, as many sites have overlapping coverage or backup power. 

Some Coastsiders reported issues with AT&T cell coverage during the most recent shut-off. AT&T avoided answering directly about the Coastside, but a representative said hundreds of mobile generators were deployed to cell sites and facilities. 

“Following any large-scale event, we strive to make improvements where needed and remain focused on serving our customers,” said AT&T spokesman Ryan Oliver in an email. 

Verizon spokeswoman Holly Flato said she did not have information about specific cell sites impacted by the outage in the Half Moon Bay area. Flato said there are generators and backup batteries at most cell towers and switch locations. 

“The majority of our cell sites have permanent backup generators installed or the ability to connect portable generators in the case of prolonged commercial power outages,” Flato said in an email. “... In most cases, we have overlapping coverage, so neighboring cell sites can pick up traffic if a cell site is out of service.” 

While cell providers reportedly were able to mitigate the outage’s effects, internet providers were more reliant on power.

“The reality is our network relies on commercial power,” said Joan Hammel, Comcast’s senior director of communication. “When commercial power is unreliable, our ability to provide service is jeopardized.”

Hammel said Comcast is able to deploy generators in isolated areas. 

Local internet and phone service provider Coastside Net, owned by Rob Genovesi, also experienced some challenges throughout the prolonged outages. Phone service went largely uninterrupted thanks to battery backup and generator power at the main phone company building, he said. 

“It was designed from the start to have backup power and be able to last through events,” Genovesi said. 

But internet service was affected for some of his 1,200 customers as they rushed to bring generators to sites after the backup batteries ran out. Genovesi said he was better prepared the second time around. When the outages were projected to span up to a week, however, he didn’t know if they had the resources to last that long. 

“It’s just going to be a reality,” Genovesi said. “It’s just something everybody has to start thinking about in a whole different way now.”

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