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Guest Editor: 12/15/2019

Comcast can improve communications during disasters



By Peter Gruchawka

Since 1969 I have been personally involved with the evolution of TV and FM broadcast and emergency services telecommunications networks. I’ve also been involved with cellular telephone since its inception in 1984 in California and public Internet since its inception in 1989. When it comes to emergency communications, they all have their flaws too numerous to address here. I have also had to deal with the downward slide of the PG&E facilities that have been getting progressively worse over the last 30 or so years.

It is now abundantly clear to everyone that during fire, earthquake or other disaster you cannot rely on any government entity or commercial provider to get timely, accurate and meaningful information to you. PG&E outages framed as a “Public Safety Power Shutoff” (PSPS) or power loss due to storm, earthquake, equipment failure or other causes, can and do result in loss of vital communications. Most cell sites have five to eight hours of battery capacity. Some have generators, but cellular providers will not construct their cell sites to “essential services” facilities standards. Landline telephone offices all have batteries and generators, but those systems occasionally fail, as was the case in 2019 October for Frontier.

Comcast, whom many of you rely upon for Internet and telephone service, does not have a backup plan. According to John Gauder, regional senior VP of Comcast, “Xfinity services require commercial power to operate.”

This is not acceptable. There is no reason, other than not wanting to spend the money, that Comcast cannot implement a power backup plan. I have communicated with the offices of Mike Thompson, Mike McGuire and Susan Gorin expressing my concerns and explaining how Comcast can come up with a solution. Internet and telephone customers must demand reliable services during an emergency. The solution is up to you.

Comcast is probably not automatically giving you a refund to reflect your loss of service for approximately 10 days in October alone. Joe Plaugher, field representative for Congressman Mike Thompson was going to communicate with Comcast and request automatic refunds for services not provided by Comcast. I spent 51 minutes with Comcast online chat and phone calls to get a credit. I hope to see a credit of $28.01 for my $78.95 October bill on my next invoice. I suspect not many Comcast customers can face such an ordeal, but it was a matter of principle to me.

But why is it important for all Comcast customers to get a refund? The only way Comcast (outside of intense political pressure) will invest in backup power for their hubs and nodes is if it will cost them less than the revenue lost when they are not providing service. Comcast is gaining at least $28 from each customer in October alone. I have an Internet-only Comcast service; most people pay far more than I do per month to Comcast for not providing service. Comcast service is critical for emergency communications for many. Let’s assume Comcast only has 100,000 customers in Sonoma County – that translates to $2,800,000 in October that Comcast is taking from you and your neighbors and not spending on hardening their network. How many dollars statewide are they “taking” when they do not provide service?

Unlike cell providers, cable companies (in this case Comcast) operate under franchise agreements with the state, county and each city within the county. So the state, county and cities can compel Comcast to provide refunds and fix their service by the threat of soliciting competitors soon, and pulling Comcast’s franchise on the next renewal (Jan. 2, 2028). I know the county and state are relatively powerless with the Federal Communications Commission. The California Public Utilities Commission is useless, but the County Board of Supervisors and state officials do have power over Comcast because of the franchise agreements.

You can, indeed it is incumbent upon you to keep the pressure on your representatives until there is an implemented solution with Comcast. Please routinely ask the people on the contact list below, “Where is my refund for lack of service by Comcast during the fires? What is the specific plan for backup power for the Comcast network? When will it happen?”

Joe Plaugher, field representative for Congressman Mike Thompson (CA-05), 2300 County Center Dr., Santa Rosa, CA 95402

Joe.Plaugher@mail.house.gov
542-7182

Pat Gilardi, district director for Supervisor Susan Gorin, First District, County of Sonoma, 575 Administration Dr., Room 100A, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

pat.gilardi@sonoma.county.org
565-2241

Kerrie Lindecker, district director/communications coordinator for Senator Mike McGuire

Kerrie.Lindecker@sen.ca.gov
576-2771

Peter Gruchawka lives in Kenwood.


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