State regulators are investigating the Feb. 3 Charter internet, cell service and phone outage that limited Morgan Hill’s emergency communications, halted distance learning at local schools and cost businesses thousands of dollars.
The investigation was only a brief topic of discussion at a recent online workshop on broadband services in Morgan Hill, hosted by the city council. Attendees—including a representative of Charter/Spectrum—also discussed the viability of South County’s largest internet and cable provider building new redundancies into the system, existing options for backup service and the likelihood of another major telecommunications company entering the Morgan Hill market.
California Public Utilities Commission Government Liaison John Baker attended the forum, briefly confirming that the CPUC is investigating the Feb. 3 outage. Baker said he couldn’t discuss the details of the Feb. 3 incident because it is under investigation, but he said such a “root cause analysis” usually takes up to 90 days to complete. That could be longer if any serious criminal violations are alleged.
The Feb. 24 workshop was the first in a series of three such forums coming up over the next couple months. The city scheduled the workshops before the Feb. 3 telecommunications outage, but the incident was fresh on the minds of everyone in attendance at the Feb. 24 Zoom workshop.
“We were just as frustrated as you” about the Feb. 3 outage, Mayor Rich Constantine said at the beginning of the workshop. “We know that more needs to be done… We take this very seriously and will continue to work with the community on this issue.”
Morgan Hill has a fraught history with subpar internet, cable and data services, in addition to multiple major outages in recent years. On Feb. 3, a contractor for Charter reportedly cut a fiber line by accident at a construction site in south Morgan Hill. The severing of the line resulted in about a 12-hour loss of internet, cable and cell service throughout the city.
Customers of Spectrum and Verizon internet, cell and cable services were affected by the fiber line cut. Frontier landline service was also down, but city staff have said that was unrelated to the fiber cut.
One of City Hall’s first reactions to the outage was to encourage residents and businesses to send letters to the CPUC and elected officials to demand that Charter build new redundancies into their system so they can still provide service even if the infrastructure is accidentally damaged.
Charter’s Director of Government Affairs for Northern and Central California, Lisa Ludovici, participated in the Feb. 24 workshop. She didn’t offer much hope that the company would be able to install redundancies any time soon.
“Because of our network architecture in Morgan Hill, we have technological constraints to building a redundant path,” Ludovici said. “We are always looking at our network architecture to see if changes or revisions need to be made. Because of the (Feb. 3) outage, we are taking another close look.”
On follow-up, Charter spokesperson Bret Picciolo said the company would not share further details about its network architecture. He added that Charter’s network is “advanced and up to date,” with 24-hour monitoring and electricity backups in place “to prevent or minimize the impact of service disruptions.”
Customers who lost service on Feb. 3 can call (833) 267-6094 to request a credit from Charter.
She added that the contractor that caused the Feb. 3 fiber optic line damage did not follow Charter’s protocols in locating and digging around existing underground infrastructure. Charter is conducting its own investigation into the contractor’s actions, and is phasing out its business with the contractor. Ludovici did not name the contractor.
Charter and its customers have suffered three major outages in the last five years in South County due to accidental damage to the company’s infrastructure, Ludovici added. The other two resulted from traffic accidents where vehicles collided into poles that housed Charter’s equipment.
City officials noted that a day-long outage is particularly painful during the Covid-19 era, with more residents working from home and thousands of children in Morgan Hill relying on stable connections for distance learning.
The Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce conducted a survey of its members after the Feb. 3 outage to determine the impact. The 62 businesses that responded to the survey reported losing between $1,000 and $6,000 in revenue because of the loss of internet and cell service on Feb. 3, Chamber CEO Brittney Sherman said at the broadband workshop. The businesses also reported losses of between 6 and 24 employee hours if they could not work from home.
Most of the responding businesses said they have not contacted their insurance or internet provider to seek reimbursement for these losses, but Sherman asked Ludovici about the possibility. Ludovici did not have an immediate response, but said she would find out and report back.
A previous survey of chamber members in 2020 showed that internet connectivity was a top concern among businesses in Morgan Hill, Sherman said.
City staff said during the Feb. 24 workshop that they have tried numerous times in recent years to attract larger internet providers, like Comcast, to enter the Morgan Hill market but none have opted to do so. They added the city has no legal authority to require a telecommunications provider to offer local service, or prevent a company from doing business here if they want to.
However, Morgan Hill Program Administrator Anthony Eulo said the likely reason no other providers who rely on “wired” infrastructure want to come to Morgan Hill is the cost.
“There is very little chance we will have another wired competitor in Morgan Hill,” Eulo said Feb. 24. “It is incredibly expensive to build the infrastructure,” which would include a network of new underground fiber lines.
But the city has been actively seeking “public-private partnerships” for more wireless telecommunications infrastructure. This includes offering water tanks, streetlight poles and other city infrastructure for companies to place high-powered wireless equipment, city staff said.
The Feb. 3 outage did not affect every resident and business in Morgan Hill. Some who called in for the Feb. 24 workshop noted they were able to use backup service from other nearby providers. City Hall was able to rely on its backup provider, South Valley Internet, during the outage.
To watch the full Feb. 24 workshop, visit the “City of Morgan Hill – Engage” page on Facebook. The city council will host two more online broadband workshops on March 24 and April 28.