WALLINGFORD — The switch from copper wire to fiber optic lines has made emergency phone service dependent on electricity. Federal rules require service providers to supply customers with batteries that last several hours, but where power outages are sometimes multi-day events, that doesn’t solve the problem.
Cecile Betit said Friday that she’s had this issue several times in East Wallingford where she lives. A snowstorm knocked out power at her house last winter, and while the battery she uses left her with emergency phone service for 12 hours, the outage lasted a few days.
She and Jonathan Gibson, of Shrewsbury, went to the Wallingford Select Board Monday and asked the board to make the town party to a series of workshops being run by the Department of Public Service (DPS) exploring how to improve “service-provider backup power obligations.”
The DPS has conducted a couple of these workshops already, the last being on Aug 20, and plans to hold two more, said attorney Michael E. Tousley, hearing officer for the workshop series.
Tousley said the Legislature passed a bill last session instructing the Public Utility Commission to file a report in December recommending “best practices for minimizing disruptions to E-911 services during power outages.”
He said the Legislature wants four areas of this to be explored: Educating consumers and communities about the issue, technical and financial assistance to people and towns, cost-effective and efficient ways to distribute information and help to people affected, and how to monitor provider compliance.
According to draft minutes from the Wallingford Select Board meeting, the board agreed by consensus to be a party to the workshops and will review a draft letter at its next meeting asking to be included.
Betit said Andover, Mount Holly, Shrewsbury and Tinmouth have been involved in the discussions. These towns are on the service list of Tousley’s latest entry order, as are several service providers, including Kingdom Fiber, Topsham Telephone Co., Perkinsville Telephone Co., Franklin Telephone Co., Ludlow Telephone Co., Shoreham Telephone LLC, Waitsfield-Fayston Telephone Co., Inc., Northfield Telephone Co., Vermont Telephone Co., Valleynet Inc. and Consolidated Communications.
Also on the service list is Vermont Public Interest Research Group, the Enhanced 911 Board and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.
Tousley said these workshops are nonadversarial and the public is welcome to participate either in person or by phone.
According to an Aug. 23 order filed by Tousley with the PUC, the next workshop is at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 19 in the Susan M. Hudson Hearing Room on the third floor of the People’s United Bank Building at 112 State St. in Montpelier. This workshop will focus on monitoring ongoing compliance. Those giving presentations are asked to file drafts by Sept. 12. Those who wish to participate by phone should call 1-631-992-3444 and use the PIN 4085308. He said to call in prior to the 1:30 p.m. start time.
There will be another workshop in October, Tousley said.