While most utilities in Baldwin County were restored last week, several complaints from the Eastern Shore suggested cable and internet provider Mediacom was behind the curve, and a persistent lack of service since Hurricane Sally made landfall Sept. 16 has inhibited customers’ ability to communicate or conduct business.
Jason Botop, a telecommuting employee who lives in Olde Towne Daphne, said the company’s communication with customers after the storm has been lackluster and its delay in restoring service “is eyebrow-raising.”
“The sense is it is a manpower issue and a lack of willingness to bring in extra crews,” he suggested. “Were it a more technical issue that they have no control over, Mediacom likely would have explained that to customers and said, ‘not our fault.’”
Mediacom Communications Director Phyllis Peters didn’t deflect blame, but suggested damage to its transmission system during and after Hurricane Sally was unprecedented. She said crews have nearly completed repairs.
Mediacom experienced 36,000 devices offline across southern Alabama and northwest Florida, but “the majority” came back online when power was restored, Peters offered. But as crews began to evaluate the system, “we had many customers whose services were interrupted due to damages to equipment in the hundreds of hub sites that are located throughout our network infrastructure.”
“Additionally, individualized issues affected customers and dropped lines needed to be rehung,” she wrote. “We quickly brought in additional crews of service technicians who have worked nonstop (during daylight hours), including weekends. Additional crews have been Mediacom employees from northern Alabama, Georgia, Florida and other states; and also, we hired numerous contract workers to supplement our workforce.”
Botop claimed residents in his neighborhood only have the choice of two internet providers — the other is AT&T — but Mediacom provides faster speed. By Sept. 28, Mediacom reported a status of 5,305 modems offline, which were affected by 95 outages in the network from damaged lines or equipment.
As of Oct. 5, Mediacom reported service remained unavailable to fewer than 900 customers in 26 “outage areas” in Daphne, Elberta, Fairhope, Foley, Gulf Shores, Lillian, Montrose, Orange Beach, Point Clear, Robertsdale and Silverhill. Peters defended the company’s communications with customers since the storm.
“We’ve updated customers regularly across all platforms,” she said, noting Mediacom has a “Storm Update” tab for Hurricane Sally on its website, with an outage map, and also sends regular emails, which customers may receive using data from the cell phone carriers.
“We’ve made a lot of progress to restore services to the greatest number of customers,” Peters said. “Since the start, the priorities have been for system technicians to repair the areas of our network where the resolution would have the largest impact. So now, we’re at the point where remaining outages and network repairs each affect smaller numbers of customers.”
In the interim, Mediacom has provided a free Wi-Fi hotspot at Fels Children’s Park in Fairhope and to compensate for service interruptions, will automatically credit customer accounts, most likely in the November billing statements.
Peters said some temporary solutions were implemented to restore service faster, but crews will have to return to make permanent repairs in the future.
“Line replacement for the permanent infrastructure is underway, and will continue,” she said. “As of today, 85 miles of our ‘plant’ still needs to be repaired and about 15 miles has been restored. But while work is underway for these additional 85 miles of network infrastructure, customers have had their services back online and working properly, with the exception of those remaining outage areas.”
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