After offering conflicting explanations about what severed a fiber optic cable east of Eagle Nest, CenturyLink representatives now say the 20-hour cell phone and Internet outage last week was caused by an over-eager beaver chewing through the line.
CenturyLink owns a fiber optic cable that runs from Taos to I-25. The cable carries Internet and cell phone data for many Taos County residents. While cell towers in the area send and recieve cell phone signals, that information is routed out of the county over the fiber optic line. If it breaks, cell service is lost.
Cell service and and many Internet connections went black Wednesday evening (June 19). Services were not restored until Thursday (June 20).
The New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC), which regulates utilities in the state, requires that companies provide notice of any major outages within 90 minutes of the onset of the outage, or at the start of business the next day.
CenturyLink spokesman David Gonzales said in an email the outage “was not a reportable outage under PRC reporting requirements.”
CenturyLink’s first emailed report to regulators on last week’s outage was received at 11:38 a.m. Thursday — almost 11 hours after the outage began. That email, from Dave Ziegler, a CenturyLink employee based in Arizona, said the cut line was “caused by wildlife or possibly shifting rocks due to the terrain.”
Ziegler’s email went on to say that no wireless cell service was affected. But by 1 p.m., the same spokesman said that, in fact, wireless providers do lease space on the fiber optic cable.
Ziegler said in the email that emergency communications were not disrupted. Law enforcement in Taos confirmed during the outage that emergency communictions were functioning.
Bishop said during the outage that the conflicting information coming from CenturyLink and the delay in providing adequate notice of the outage was possibly tied to the fact that the agency’s contact was out-of-state and had limited information as to what was happening on the ground.
“While the issue was resolved successfully, it is clear [CenturyLink’s] method for communicating outages needs improvement,” Bishop said in an email Tuesday (June 25).
CenturyLink says 1,847 Internet users were affected. Bishop said there was still no estimate as to how many cell phone customers went without without service. Bishop said that PRC staff were following up with cell phone providers that may have been affected.
Most Internet users in Taos County lost their connections during the outage.
An exception included dial-up and fixed wireless customers with TaosNet, which has a backup link north to Colorado. TaosNet owner John Batis said his DSL customers did lose service during the outage.
Bishop said staff was asking CenturyLink questions about redundancy for the network. He noted that cost constraints often prevent redundancies from being installed in certain areas.
Following last year’s outage, local Internet providers noted that the new broadband network being installed by Kit Carson Electric Cooperative could provide a backup for the line heading east over the mountains.
Gonzales said “critical circuits” are already diversified, ensuring that emergency communications remain intact and that local and long-distance calls can still be made. “There is a 5-year plan to further diversify this route by building into Colorado and at this point we are only about 2 years into that plan,” Gonzales said in his email.
In March 2012, officials said a bullet severed an overhead section of the same fiber optic cable, causing a similar cell phone and Internet outage for about 18 hours.