The days of mass information outages in Humboldt County will finally come to a close by the end of next year, AT&T has promised county government.

Yesterday the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors received a letter from Marc Blakeman, the telecommunication giant’s vice president for external affairs. Blakeman referenced the mass Internet/phone outages that Humboldt County has experienced in the past few months, and he announced that the company was launching a new initiative to keep more customers online if — or when — its main fiber optic line is breached again, whether by vandalism or accident or natural disaster.

Blakeman wrote that over the next year the company would install new gear in its regional offices that would protect its North Coast network from “single points of failure,” such as a fiber cut. With the new equipment, he wrote, the company would be able to “route traffic over diverse fiber paths” to restore service more quickly to customers beyond the point of a cut to their fiber.

What the letter didn’t mention was the answer to the specific question, which Humboldt County residents have come to be all to aware of: Does this mean that the company was now prepared to lease space on the IP Networks “redundant” fiber, which travels over the hills from Alton to Cottonwood? Or, rather, would it be leasing enough space to accommodate all its customers, including the businesses and individuals and 911 call centers that have been going down with the main AT&T fiber line?

Well, in a follow-up conference call with Blakeman and other AT&T personnel this afternoon the Outpost learned that yes, this is exactly what the company is saying — though there’s more to it than that.

First, Blakeman wished to define terms. Though we have been trained to think about these questions in terms of “redundancy” — as in, when one fiber line goes down there is another to take up its traffic — AT&T, at least internally, is defining its new North Coast initiative as a “diversity” project. “Redundancy,” in the company’s parlance, is about having an extra widget on-hand to replace one that has failed. What AT&T is promising to do is spread that traffic around in times of crisis.

“We are doing network upgrades to allow different – diverse – fiber routing that will allow us to react in a more immediate capacity,” Blakeman said.

Largely that means using the company’s current lease on the IP Networks east-west line — the one that kept the company’s high-rolling customers up when everyone went down. When the network upgrades are complete, Blakeman said, all local AT&T customers will have access to that bandwidth if need be. But the company will also catalog its own fiber assets — spur lines through cities and such — so that it might reroute thru traffic down those tubes, if it can.

In short: Real redundancy — or real what-we-call “redundancy” — is coming, AT&T promises.

Full letter to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors below:

Dear Members of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors,

As you know, the North Coast has experienced a number of recent communications outages resulting from fiber cuts. AT&T understands how difficult it can be to lose voice and data communications, even for a short time. The company has been exploring options and we have positive news to share.

AT&T is upgrading the North Coast network to significantly increase the network’s protection against outages or service disruptions caused by fiber damage. AT&T has already begun engineering these upgrades, and we estimate they will be complete by the end of 2016. Once completed, the majority of the fiber miles in this area will be protected from single points of failure. This improvement will help protect phone and internet services for consumers and businesses in the North Coast from outages.

To better serve our customers in the North Coast region, AT&T will upgrade the wire centers on the main route of the network in the area by installing new equipment in the central offices and programming that equipment to route traffic over diverse fiber paths. This means that if fiber is cut on one side of the wire center, the equipment will be able to switch and reroute through another path, thereby making the network more resilient and reducing the risk of outages in Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma Counties. 

These upgrades are part of our ongoing effort to make phased upgrades to our network as technology continues to evolve. We remain committed to optimizing the AT&T network in the North Coast with new technologies and increased capacity as they become available.

Thank you for your advocacy on behalf of the communities you serve. I look forward to working together as we build a stronger, more resilient North Coast network in the year ahead.


Marc Blakeman
Vice President, External Affairs
AT&T California