Sally Aman

Broadband Providers Working to Keep Hurricane Harvey Victims Connected

In times of crisis, it’s vitally important that people can communicate with loved ones and emergency responders, and the devastating storm that has overwhelmed Houston and other parts of the Gulf Coast has prompted non-stop efforts by broadband providers to keep residents online.

Several USTelecom member companies have operations in and around the areas that have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey, and their employees are working 24/7 in emergency operations centers to keep networks up and running, as well as restore service in areas around Houston that have been flooded.

(AT&T Video)

Consolidated Communications has activated its Emergency Operations Center, equipping its fleet with extra fuel, ensuring backup generators are working and placing extra emergency supplies in key areas so employees can focus on keeping its network up.

On Tuesday, Verizon pledged $10 million for relief efforts, one of several pledges of aid that have been offered by broadband providers in recent days. Verizon says it’s sending Cells on Wheels (COWs) and Cells on Light Trucks (COLTS) to help provide extra network capacity in south Texas, where the FCC says a majority of cell towers in two counties – Aransas and Refugio – were still knocked out on Tuesday thanks to high waters.

Mobile broadband providers, including Verizon and AT&T, are offering credits to consumers in the area, including extra data, text and phone services to help subscribers who have been displaced by the storm and trying to stay online and in touch with loved ones, insurance companies and others who will be vital in recovery efforts.

Orlando-based Smart City Telecom, which provides internet services in convention centers, amusement parks and hotels, has flown staff to Texas to help relieve local employees and keep its Wi-Fi and voice networks operational for storm victims who’ve taken refuge at the George R. Brown Convention Center and NRG Stadium in Houston.

CenturyLink, which provides service in several areas hit hard by the storm, including Port Aransas, said it has had some customers lose service. It is providing free Emergency Call Forwarding for customers impacted by the storm, which will allow consumers and businesses to forward their calls to a different number for the next month.

The FCC reported that at least 283,590 cable or wireline subscribers in the area were still without service. That was an increase of roughly 100,000 from the weekend, as more switching centers have gone down because of a lack of electricity. More centers have begun relying on back-up generators, which require a constant fuel source.

Several USTelecom members based in Texas, including Big Bend Telephone, GVTC Communications and Southwest Texas Telephone, have fortunately not had service interrupted by the storm. “We are doing all we can for our industry family affected by this mess,” said Rusty Moore, General Manager of Big Bend Telephone, in an email.

Several Texas-based providers are offering to help other companies in the impacted areas, sending staff to help restore service or offering up their networks to help responders trying to help Texans get back on their feet.

Thankfully, we were not affected by the storm. We send our best wishes to others in our industry who, unfortunately, were not so lucky. Together, we are Texas strong, wrote Rosa Cerda, Commercial Manager of Southwest Texas Telephone Company, via email.