Communications outage reminds Merrill residents to be prepared
TINA L. SCOTT
An internet and communications outage lasted from mid-morning on Tuesday, Aug. 24 through late evening, leaving most of Merrill homes and businesses without service for approximately 12 hours. The majority lost internet service and Charter telephone service, along with AT&T cell service, but many other cell phone users still had cell service initially. Then later in the day many of them also experienced cell phone interruptions followed by total cell service outages. A severed cable line has been blamed for the outage.
In response to the outage, the Merrill Fire Department requested a deployable communications tower from FirstNet. Chief Josh Klug said. “FirstNet is a wireless broadband network specifically for first responders.”
“When we have an outage, we call FirstNet and start the process for requesting a deployable communications truck,” he explained. “Maintaining communications during an outage is part of FirstNet’s requirements to provide service to first responders. The trucks are located throughout the country, but we would typically get one from our region, the Midwest.”
“When we called that day, we originally were told that the truck would be coming from South Dakota, but it ended up coming from Green Bay. This was probably the fourth or fifth time we’ve requested them, but the first time they actually established communications while on site here in Merrill,” Klug said. “Since FirstNet and AT&T share towers, that’s why some AT&T customers may have gotten service back sooner Wednesday night.”
“We have typically found out that most of our outages in Merrill have been attributed to Spectrum Charter having issues with their lines which support the cell towers,” he added. “When their lines go down, the towers go down. Most of the time, Charter fixes their stuff before the deployable communications truck gets here and sets up.”
Last Tuesday evening was the exception. The FirstNet deployable communications truck was likely “broadcasting” for 30 minutes before the regular towers were fixed is what Klug said they were told.
“Prior to that, FirstNet technicians told us that cell towers might not be fixed until the next morning,” he added. Services were restored late Monday night, however.
“With outages like the ones we have, it is important the public have a backup plan for communications,” Klug said. “If your cell phone doesn’t work, how would you call 9-1-1? Do you still have a landline? What provider does your neighbor have?”
This reminder was timely, as Gov. Tony Evers has declared September as Preparedness Month.