Thursday, December 06, 2007


After the cleanup, questions remain

by Larry Geller

Yikes! A condo roof blown away? This wasn't even a hurricane. Power poles down. A bus struck by lightning.

In one sense, dealing with the weather is part of island life. Sometimes stuff happens. I was glad that the papers did not indicate any deaths due to the storm.

After the cleanup perhaps some questions need to be asked. For example, according to CHORE, Doug Carlson's watchdog blog, 16 utility poles were blown down and blocked a highway along the same stretch of road where 13 poles blew down in March, 2006. Doug asks about that and much more.

I just made my routine call to Oceanic to collect my credit for yesterday's outages. Believe it or not, they are not required to give you credit for their lapses in service unless you call and claim it! (There oughta be a law... hint to legislators).

Yesterday was a big storm, but sometimes Roadrunner or the entire cable is out even though the sun is shining brightly in the sky. But they still get to charge you for service that's not delivered.

If you use several services (say, digital tv, broadband internet, VOIP phone) these are not available to you during an outage. In my book, you deserve a credit at least. You also deserve more reliable service, and I'll get back to that. If you're paying for one of the premium broadband services, you were paying though you got nothing. Maybe corporate customers will get a bigger credit if they call, because they pay substantially more.

Calling 643-2100 (on Oahu) will get you a friendly representative who will cheerfully issue a refund. It's surprisingly small, maybe $3-$4 for yesterday. But imagine if they had to give that to all their affected subscribers each time?

This brings me to the issue of reliability. Just because we live on an island doesn't mean we have to put up with so much downtime. Maybe it's a Disappeared Technology, but it's called "redundancy." When I worked for GE, each computer center had redundant data feeds. One by satellite, one by cable. One left the center by an underground cable, the other by overhead poles. In fact, there was often a third or fourth line. Each line would go via a different carrier where there was a choice. The point was to not be down. The computer centers put in redundancy because any outage would be extremely costly to the company.

It's a simple principle, applicable everywhere. There's obviously a tradeoff which is mostly economic. It may not be possible to provide two diverse feeds for every community. But A can connect to B which can connect to C which can connect to A. There's often quite a lot that can be done. Same for electric power, and often they do have redundancy. Power may come from the East and from the West. But often they don't have that.

If Oceanic were required to issue automatic credits, that could be one small part of an incentive to improve reliability through redundancy and other methods.

If we remain docile consumers we'll get no improvement. If the communities affected by the 16 downed power poles hold the electric company to account, maybe they'll put in a more reliable system. If no one says anything, guess what will happen next time the wind blows.

Same for Oceanic. Maybe you're using their VOIP phone service and no one could reach you. Asking for a credit is a small thing and won't bother them (unless we get that law passed...), but raising a fuss and demanding better service might.

Oh, I know you won't do it. They know you won't do it. We're sheep. We just take anything that's dished out to us. We pay but we don't get. You won't email your state representatives and ask for automatic refunds for service outages. HECO will be allowed to replace the poles with more of the same. Maybe they've already done so.

Now that your cable is working, and maybe you got credit for yesterday, go check out CHORE. Doug Carlson wants answers. He wants sirens to work and power poles to stay up. It could be the start of a movement. Please join in.


I'd accept more outages if it meant less redundancy and therefore less poles on wires. Or put it all underground (power, cable, and telephone) and get more redundancy, more weather-proofness, and less ugly--and I'd pay for it.

But then again, I live on Kauai, so I'm funny that way. KIUC wants to make a redundant line from Kilauea to Princeville, right across scenic Kalihiwai valley.

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