10 weeks after heavy rains, hundreds remain without phone, Inter - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

10 weeks after heavy rains, hundreds remain without phone, Internet service

Image source: Hawaiian Telcom Image source: Hawaiian Telcom
Su Shin Su Shin
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Hawaiian Telcom is still struggling to fix phone and Internet outages statewide caused by heavy rains 10 weeks ago.

The phone company has told state regulators the bulk of roughly 750 customers across the state with phone and Internet problems should have their service restored by the end of the month.

About 10 Kalama Valley homes along Laielua Place have had no landline phone or internet service for 10 weeks, since heavy rains hit in late August, soaking underground cables. It’s one of various pockets of outages throughout the islands.

"We would like the service we're paying for to be provided," said Jay Lamb, whose Kalama Valley family has not had phone service since August 26. Every time they call Hawaiian Telcom for an update, the utility cannot tell them how long repairs will take.

"The whole reason for having a land line that's supposed to be more reliable than cellular service and it's kind of, I think, embarrassing for them that after some rain, all of a sudden it doesn't work, they don't know what the problem is and they certainly don't know how long it's going to take to fix," said Lamb.

Su Shin, the executive director of corporate communications for Hawaiian Telcom, said, "We apologize. I don't think that there's any other way to say it. And quite frankly there's no excuse for it. Our customers pay us to provide a service and we haven't delivered."

Shin said the company's repair crews are working seven days a week and it has hired contractors from in- and out-of-state. A contract technician who just arrived from Florida last weekend showed up to begin repairs on Laielua Place in Kalama Valley late Friday afternoon before a full crew was expected to begin work there Saturday.

"We're making progress, but that's not any kind of consolation to those customers who remain without service and we understand that," Shin said. "We are extremely committed that we get them up and running as soon as possible."

She said Hawaiian Telcom has had a difficult time finding available mainland contractors since many of them have stayed closer to home for utility repair work in states hit by heavy rain this fall, such as Texas.

Hawaiian Telcom is providing temporary cell phones to people with extended phone outages, and has done that for at least two families on the affected street in Kalama Valley.  Customers can go online to request a cell phone or call Hawaiian Telcom’s repair hotline at (808) 643-6111.

Randy Iwase, chairman of the state Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the phone company, said, "I'm not satisfied with the length of time that it's taken to address these issues."

Iwase began an "informal inquiry" into the repair delays in response to Hawaii News Now stories about the problems last month.

The phone company has told him the major cause of the outages.

"They're referring to it as a legacy network, which is the old copper wires, some of which date back to the 1930s.  So they're old," Iwase said.

Iwase wants the utility to detail its plan for updating its outdated infrastructure and to estimate how much that will cost.

Shin, the Hawaiian Telcom spokeswoman, said, "We face some of the same infrastructure challenges that other utilities face, not just here in Hawaii, but across the country.  But again, that's not an excuse.  We have to keep our services up so that our customers get the service they are paying us for."

Customers say they realize there was record breaking rain in late August but they're worried what will happen to antiquated phone lines when a more serious tropical storm or hurricane hits the islands.

"It wasn't a hurricane, it wasn't a severe tropical storm.  So what happens if Oahu gets hit by a massive storm, what is Hawaiian Tel going to do to keep communications up?" said Lamb.

Shin said continued rainy weather in September delayed repairs from getting underway in an already-soaked system.

"If it starts to rain really heavily in that area again, our crews can't do the repair work while it's raining heavily because it could cause more damage and make the situation worse," Shin said.

Shin said the company often cannot offer a specific forecast of when the service should be restored because they cannot predict certain key factors.

"If it rains again while they're working or if as they're doing the repair they come across some other issues, then it may actually prolong the repair," Shin added.

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