Verizon, AT&T to testify on California wildfire outages that affected millions

'Telecommunications outages limited Californians' ability to call 911'

Representatives from AT&T and Verizon will testify before California's legislature on Wednesday as lawmakers look into the loss of phone service during high-risk wildfire conditions in October 2019.

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Verizon is proud of its service "during the unprecedented proactive power shutoffs in October," a company spokesperson told FOX Business. "For example, at the height of events on Oct. 28, the FCC reported that an aggregate 27 percent of wireless service provider cell sites were out of service in Sonoma County due to the power shutoffs, while Verizon experienced just 7 percent of its sites out of service at the time."

Utilities like San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric proactively shut off electrical power for hundreds of thousands of California customers to cut the risk of wildfires that have plagued California in recent years.

PG&E BEGINS CUTTING ABOUT 800,000 CALIFORNIANS' POWER DUE TO WILDFIRE RISK

Jeff Luong, AT&T's vice president of radio access network construction, and Verizon's Chief Legislative Counsel Jesus Roman will testify in front of the state's Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee on Wednesday.

"The loss of electric power impacted multiple downstream essential services that rely on electricity to operate, including telecommunications," the committee wrote in a backgrounder. "While some customers may have been prepared to lose power, many Californians were not prepared to lose telecommunications service. Telecommunications outages limited Californians' ability to call 911, receive emergency notifications, and conduct business."

Woodbridge firefighter Joe Zurilgen passes a burning home as the Kincade Fire rages in Healdsburg, Calif., in October 2019. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

Three utilities shut off power for more than 1.1 million customers in late October, but their impact on telecommunications is unknown, according to data from the California Public Utilities Commission cited by the committee.

"According to data from the FCC, up to 27 percent of Sonoma County's wireless cell sites were out of service during the period in which responders conducted evacuations and fire response for the Kincade Fire," the committee wrote, referring to a blaze in late October and early November.

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FOX Business talked to business owners affected by the power shutoffs in October. Ed Susman of Equilibrium Tuning estimated he'd lose around $5,000 on the first day of the shutdown alone. His shop is located halfway between San Francisco and Sacramento.

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"We had to shut down the shop. I had to send my employees home and try to contact my customers to tell them we can't service them today. We don't know when this is going to be over because PG&E left it open," he told FOX Business.

FOX Business' inquiry to AT&T was not returned at the time of publication.

Correction: This article has been updated to specify the hearing is to be held by the California State Senate, not the U.S. Senate.

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