Cable Operators

Irene: Wicked Witch of the East

9/05/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Cable operators
swung into action to
restore service for customers
smacked by
Irene, a massive storm
that flew up the East
Coast the last weekend
of August, causing
widespread flooding
and power outages.

Irene hit the U.S.
as a Category 1 hurricane
with winds topping
80 miles per hour,
prompting the evacuation
of some 2.3 million
people. The storm
was blamed for at least
44 deaths in 13 states.
Irene weakened as it
moved north, but still
caused an estimated
$7 billion to $10 billion
of damage, affecting 55
million Americans and shutting down mass transit in New
York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

TIME WARNER CABLE HIT HARD


Among cable operators, Time Warner Cable, with more
than 5.9 million customers spanning the Carolinas up
through New York City and into Maine, bore the brunt of
Irene’s wrath.

At the peak of the storm, more than 700,000 TWC
customers were without service, according to Henry
Hryckiewicz, president of engineering and network operations
for the East Region. That was down to less than
90,000 as of last Wednesday, with those largely the result
of power outages.

“You plan for the worst. That’s what we always do in
these cases,” Hryckiewicz said. “You can’t do anything
about access if roads are washed out.”

Time Warner Cable’s planning began several days in advance
of Irene’s landfall. The MSO has six trailers on the
East Coast dedicated to disaster recovery, stocked with
generators, chainsaws and other equipment, and strategically
placed reserves of fiber and coaxial cable.

In the Carolinas, TWC reserved 50 hotel rooms for employees
responding to the storm and mobilized more
than 500 technicians to repair damaged cables after Irene
passed. The operator used its regional command center in
Raleigh, N.C. — which was outside the eye of the storm —
to coordinate recovery efforts.

Time Warner Cable also had 2,000 gallons of fuel stationed
along the Carolina coast, knowing that gas would
become a precious commodity during the disaster, according
to Chris Whitaker, area vice president of operations
for Eastern North Carolina.

Comcast subscribers in the path of Irene were largely affected
by power outages, with flooding the biggest residual
issue. More than half of the areas affected by the storm
have aerial coax or telco lines.

“In our case, almost all our impact centered around
commercial power,” John Schanz, Comcast Cable executive
vice president of national engineering and technical
operations, said.


WASHOUTS IN VERMONT

In Vermont, Schanz noted, roads “were literally
washed away. We’ll be spending a long time fixing
that.” Until the roadways are restored, Comcast is establishing
temporary network connections to provide
service to customers.

Cox Communications said Aug. 28 that 15% of customers
in Northern Virginia and 25% of those in the southern
part of the state had service outages in the wake of Hurricane
Irene, primarily the result of power failures.

By late last week, Cox said, it was “practically at business
as usual with nearly all customers restored. We’re working
to get the few customers with remaining outages back online
as soon as possible.”

Verizon Communications, for its part, did not disclose
how many customers were affected by the storm. The company
said it experienced “no major network issues even
during the peak of Irene,” with most outages linked to the
loss of power, although call volumes in the Northeast were
higher than normal.

Verizon network field personnel last week were “aggressively
working to restore network facilities in the hard-hit
areas of Hurricane Irene’s path,” spokeswoman Linda
Laughlin said. Crews were replacing damaged utility poles
and downed cables, as well as refueling generators at sites
that were using backup power and assessing damage to
the network infrastructure.

Irene did not hit New Y ork City as hard as expected.
However, the advance warnings were not unwarranted,
TWC’s Hryckiewicz said.

“I’m not sure we would have changed anything, looking
back,” he said. “It would have just taken another three to
four inches of rain [in New York City] and we would have
been facing a lot more damage.”

STORM STORIES

SUMMARY OF THE IRENE RESPONSE:

Time Warner Cable: Activated portable generators
at 47 out of about 400 hub sites; more
than 700,000 subscribers were affected.

Comcast: More than 5 million subscribers
in the cable operator’s footprint lost power
during the storm.

Cox Communications: More than 90% of
customers had service restored by Sept. 1.

SOURCE: Multichannel News research

September