Telecom Service Remains Spotty in New Orleans

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More than nine months after Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans, phones still don't work and Internet access is hard to come by in many parts of the city, according to a June 20 article in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans.

The hardest hit areas: St. Bernard Parish and patches of the Lakeview neighborhood. The paper reported that traditional BellSouth telephone service has been restored in 86.6% of Orleans Parish, 96.4% of Plaquemines Parish and 18.2% of St. Bernard Parish, company spokesman Merlin Villar told the Times Picayune. Cox Communications officials told the paper that the operator has restored phone, cable TV and high-speed Internet service to “a significant portion” of its footprint. But the company declined to provide details, the paper reported.

Cox can offer its services only in areas where Entergy, the local power company, has restored commercial electric power. And having electricity restored to houses in an area does not necessarily mean commercial power has been restored, Cox spokesman Brad Grundmeyer told the Times-Picayune.

Fiber-optic networks require commercial electric power to continually send the signal along the line, he said. Cox is also struggling to preserve replacement equipment it installed post-Katrina. The company has replaced many pedestals, but in many places, units have been damaged or hauled away in the course of reconstruction, the Cox spokesman told the paper. In December, 81 Cox pedestals were ripped out in a single day in Jefferson Parish, according to Grundmeyer.

BellSouth is working to get its phone network up and running, but Darrell Cooper, senior network vice president for the telco, told the Times-Picayune that it’s going to take years. The upside to all this, he said, is the opportunity to provide high-end services because the telco is replacing all underground copper wire with fiber. The cost for restoration is likely to exceed $700 million, the paper reported.

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