Kupchick on residents without internet access: ‘Wi-Fi is no longer a luxury, it's a necessity’
FAIRFIELD — More than a week after Tropical Storm Isaias tore through Connecticut and knocked out power for more than half the town, First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said many residents still do not have internet access.
“Many of our residents are still without Wi-Fi, which is very challenging while many of you are working from home,” Kupchick said in an update to residents. “Wi-Fi is no longer a luxury, it's a necessity.”
Kupchick said she expects utility companies to provide reliable services to their residents and to be available when services are down. She said their response to the storm has been subpar.
“I've made it very clear to you my level of frustration and disappointment in the utility companies including UI, Altice and Frontier,” she said. “The bottom line is their customer service and communication was severely lacking.”
After rain and high winds took down trees and utility lines last week, 67 percent of Fairfield residents were without power. According to officials, power was restored to all residents by Tuesday afternoon.
Kupchick said she has forwarded complaints about internet service to the representatives from Altice, the parent company of Optimum.
“Altice reported 2.91 percent of Connecticut residents are without their service as of this morning, and they tell me they are working as quickly as possible to get our residents who are offline back up and running,” Kupchick said. “We have asked them for outages specific to Fairfield, but haven't yet received that information.”
The first selectwoman said she will work with Fairfield’s state delegation to better understand the cable company's responsibilities, and to determine if they are abiding by the rules that the Public Utility Regulating Authority has in place.
PURA is statutorily charged with regulating the rates and services of Connecticut's investor-owned electricity, natural gas, water and telecommunication companies and is the franchising authority for the state’s cable television companies.
In a statement, UI representative Sarah Warren said the company recognizes that the outages presented an additional burden in challenging times. She said UI prepared in advance for the storm based on the protocols established in conjunction with regulators, adding that it looks forward to working with regulators as they review the company’s preparedness and response plans.
“Given that this is just the start of storm season, we welcome the opportunity to work together with regulators and government to explore whether there are other things we should collectively be evaluating in the future to help address the impact on customers,” Warren said.
Lisa Anselmo, a representative from Altice, said fewer than 1 percent of Optimum customers in the tri-state remain offline Thursday related to the storm. She said crews are in the field continuing to make progress and are working as quickly as possible as power is restored by the power companies.
“We thank our customers for their patience as we work to get everyone back online, and we will be providing credits proactively to customers whose Optimum services were not available when power was restored,” Anselmo said. “Customers do not need to request the credit — we will be applying it to their accounts in the coming weeks.”
Kupchick also said she had received a number of emails and social media comments asking her to consider burying power lines. She said there appear to be prohibitive costs associated with a project of that size, referencing a state report from 2011.
According to the report, the cost of building overhead lines ranges between $136,000 and $197,000 per mile, while the cost of putting lines underground can cost anywhere from $409,000 to $559,000 per mile.
In addition to the cost, Kupchick said a project like that could take decades to complete and may make repairs more difficult during outages. On the other hand, she said, the report also states that it would reduce power outages, tree trimming costs and reduce the risk of live wires harming residents.
“I imagine this is a debate that will be reinvigorated after this storm,” she said. “The projected costs appear to be prohibitive but I am always willing to listen to all sides of a debate, and to other new ideas.”