Telephone service

On Feb. 3 in Morgan Hill, a construction contractor just south of town accidentally cut a fiber optic cable that provided telecommunications service for multiple providers and thousands of customers. The result was a 12-hour internet, cable and cell service outage that brought local school, commercial and daily life to a halt for a large portion of the residential and business community.

Mixed with the overwhelming reaction of frustration and disbelief that such a mishap could paralyze digital communications in Silicon Valley in the 21st century, is a pervasive sense that the outage wasn’t, after all, that unexpected in a community that has a history of similar incidents and lackluster services.

The Feb. 3 outage, which started about 10am, was particularly burdensome for students and teachers in the Morgan Hill Unified School District. Daily instruction at the local schools has largely been at the mercy of reliable internet coverage since the pandemic started and classes shifted to distance learning.

MHUSD spokeswoman Lanae Bays said the Feb. 3 outage—which forced the district to cancel class—was just one event in an ongoing pattern of unreliable and spotty internet service throughout Morgan Hill. The poor service in some areas of the district has led the district to purchase “hot spots” for a quarter of MHUSD’s 8,500 students since in-person class was prohibited in March 2020.

Some students still can’t get internet access at their homes, so they have to go to campus to use a connection just to participate in distance learning on their tablets, Bays said. As of Feb. 10, seven MHUSD schools remain without landline phone service and the provider, Frontier, has “stopped taking our calls.” These phone outages started in January.

“The (recent) outages are in addition to the unacceptable internet conditions in a system with no redundancy to maintain continuous service,” Bays said. “It’s also unfortunate that Morgan Hill residents are somewhat jaded to the fact we have unreliable internet and phone services, and no one was that surprised during these latest events.”

MHUSD Superintendent Steve Betando credited the district’s teachers for their ability to adjust and offer alternatives to students when internet service is down or spotty. “However, their spending additional hours shifting plans, delaying lessons, creating packets to pick up, keeping track of which students received what material, and realigning expectations, all because of poor service performers is unacceptable,” Betando said.

Outages like the Feb. 3 incident and subpar telecommunications have also become more fearsome among businesses in the Covid-19 era, as more residents working from home are constantly in need of reliable means to communicate with colleagues, clients, partners and supervisors at other locations.

“The Feb. 3 internet outage posed a great hardship on business owners already struggling to keep the doors open,” Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce CEO Brittney Sherman said. “In the time of the pandemic, missing one telephone call or one online order is frustrating but missing an entire day of sales is devastating. The business community is surviving largely off internet connectivity, and when that fails we see many businesses fail along with it.”

City and school officials are in agreement that the telecommunications infrastructure in Morgan Hill and South County is in urgent need of upgrades that provide redundancy of service. Sherman said in an end-of-year survey of the Morgan Hill business community, respondents named “internet connectivity” as one of the top four most important issues heading into 2021.

City officials will host a series of online community workshops on the subject of broadband in Morgan Hill, coming up on Feb. 24, March 24 and April 28.

One line, multiple providers

The Feb. 3 outage occurred when a subcontractor for cable and internet provider Spectrum accidentally cut one of the company’s fiber optic lines, city staff said. The damage occurred at a site off Monterey Road, just south of Vineyard Boulevard.

Spectrum and Verizon internet, cell and cable services were affected by the fiber line damage. Frontier service was disrupted on Feb. 3, but city staff said the cause of that company’s outage was unrelated to the severed fiber line.

Spectrum crews spent several hours repairing the damage, and service was back in Morgan Hill before midnight.

Frontier Communications spokesman Javier Mendoza said heavy rain storms in January damaged some of the company’s cables in Morgan Hill, causing recent internet and phone disruptions for residential, business and school customers. The company expects to have all service restored by Feb. 12, Mendoza said. 

The Feb. 3 outage was at least the third major incident of telecommunications disruption in Morgan Hill in recent memory. In 2009, a more widespread and lengthy outage engulfed Morgan Hill and the surrounding region. That outage was caused by a vandal who intentionally cut underground fiber optic lines in south San Jose. In August 2019, a traffic accident in Gilroy caused damage to Charter Communications equipment, resulting in an internet and cell outage in Morgan Hill.

On Feb. 4, city staff sent an email urging residents to send a letter to the California Public Utilities Commission and other public officials to “demand” that Spectrum be required to “dramatically enhance the redundancy built into their system to reduce the scope, duration and impact of future outages.” The city provided residents with a template for a letter to send to officials. City staff also included a fact sheet with an overview of telecommunications services in Morgan Hill.

Adding to the uncertainty in Spectrum’s infrastructure is the fact that the company leases its fiber equipment to competing providers including Verizon, Frontier and AT&T, the city’s letter states. “The backbone infrastructure behind the scenes is still the same, owned and managed by Charter/Spectrum,” says the letter. “We truly do not have an alternative solution or provider that can serve the community during these widespread outages.”

But not all internet providers in Morgan Hill were down during the Feb. 3 outage. South Valley Internet (SVI), a provider based in San Martin, was not impacted, according to the company’s Chief Operations Officer.

“Whilst South Valley Internet is a smaller, local service provider we have invested in building a reliable and robust network for our users which includes copper, fiber and wireless offerings,” South Valley Internet COO Elise Brentnall said in an email. “Additionally, we are multi-homed, which minimizes the possibility of a catastrophic outage such as the one experienced on (Feb. 3).”

Brentnall added that SVI has its own fiber line routes “independent of Spectrum or any other provider.” That allows multiple feeds to enter SVI’s network, and creates diverse routes that provide multiple backup options. Furthermore, SVI uses “high-capacity wireless technology” to bypass fiber damage.

Morgan Hill Economic Development Manager John Lang said the issue of connectivity comes up “fairly frequently” in discussions with local businesses or investors looking to come to Morgan Hill. However, in general it has not been a primary deciding factor for businesses considering moving here, Lang said.

Lang said the purpose of the upcoming broadband workshops is to give City Hall a chance to hear from the community and to “engage with our service providers in meaningful dialog about connectivity (wired and wireless) in Morgan Hill.”

The city also sees the workshops as an “opportunity to clarify and define the role the city plays in an otherwise regulated industry.” In the city’s Feb. 4 email, city staff said local officials cannot regulate telecommunications providers, and that responsibility is left to the state.

For more information about the workshops, including how to participate online, visit the city’s website at

Previous articleRestaurants pivot again
Next articleMorgan Hill’s infection rate accelerates
Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here