2006-02-10 / Front Page

Cut Cables Silence Local Phones

Can You Hear Me Now,
By Howard Schwach

Cut Cables Silence Local Phones

'Can You Hear Me Now,' Question Of The Week

Congressman Anthony Weiner held a press conference in front of the Verizon Telephone Building on Beach 81 Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard on Thursday afternoon to announce that he has asked the chairman of the Public Service Commission to investigate the failure of the local phone system and to "ensure that the party or parties at fault are sanctioned and their victims are made whole." Weiner said that both KeySpan Energy and Verizon are acting like "Keystone Cops." With Weiner is Rockaway Park resident Tom Hannan, who spoke about the problems caused by the outage.Congressman Anthony Weiner held a press conference in front of the Verizon Telephone Building on Beach 81 Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard on Thursday afternoon to announce that he has asked the chairman of the Public Service Commission to investigate the failure of the local phone system and to "ensure that the party or parties at fault are sanctioned and their victims are made whole." Weiner said that both KeySpan Energy and Verizon are acting like "Keystone Cops." With Weiner is Rockaway Park resident Tom Hannan, who spoke about the problems caused by the outage.

A construction crew digging new gas pipes for Arverne By The Sea struck and cut two major feeder cables coming from the Telephone Building on Beach 81 Street, knocking out phone service throughout the west end of the peninsula on Thursday, February 2. At press time, a number of phone customers still remained without service.

John Bonomo, a spokesperson for Verizon, the company that installs and maintains the telephone infrastructure, told The Wave that the two primary cables were severed early on Thursday evening by a contractor working for KeySpan Energy. In addition, he said, a conduit that pumps air around the cables to keep them dry was severed as well.

Verizon equipment was stationed on Beach 134 Street and Newport Avenue, where wet cables disrupted telephone service for nearly a week. 
Verizon equipment was stationed on Beach 134 Street and Newport Avenue, where wet cables disrupted telephone service for nearly a week. That allowed the torrential rain early in the weekend to disable even more cables carrying telephone service to the west end of the peninsula.

It was clear to Verizon officials early in the problem that it would take days to make the necessary fix.

"This is a laborious, labor intensive job," Bonomo said. "Each wire in the huge cable had to be spliced individually by hand."

On Monday, Bonomo said that the company was "making progress" and had insured that official and emergency service institutions such as the police, fire department and schools had been put back into service.

At that time, he estimated that the service should be back for everybody in "a day or two."

He pointed out that individual subscribers were coming on line all the time.

"As the cable is spliced, more people come up," he said.

On Tuesday, however, he said that nearly 50 people were working around the clock at the location of the break and at other locations around Rockaway where wet cable was the problem. He admitted that some people would remain out for a few days and that some would not have their service back on line until Friday or Saturday.

Some local residents were skeptical that the sliced cables were really the problem.

"I suspect [Verizon] is using this as an excuse to upgrade its system," said Belle Harbor resident Carolyn Rushefsy in an Email to The Wave. "They are trying to compete with cable companies, not that any of us would use this monopoly ever again after this."

At the end of the week, KeySpan and Verizon were pointing fingers at each other over the genesis of the accident.

A KeySpan spokesperson told reporters that the contractors had notified the telephone giant but that Verizon had failed to adequately mark its underground lines.

Bonomo told reporters, however, that the underground cables were marked and that the company would seek reimbursement from the gas company for the damage.

He added that customers who reported the problem would get an adjustment to their bill, but would not commit to a specified amount.

Bonomo said that there had been 1,200 reports of problem from Rockaway residents, but that the number of telephones that were out was "probably much larger."

While Democratic District Leader Lew Simon charged that more than 18,000 locals were without phone service, Bonomo said that the number was "much too high."

"We have no definitive answer as to how many people were impacted by the sliced cables," he said, adding that the only evidence they had was a trouble report from individual subscribers.

Bonomo said that he could not specify the area affected by the cable cut, but that the outages were sporadic throughout the entire west end area.

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