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Verizon reveals its first specific recovery numbers

Tuesday - 7/3/2012, 5:03pm  ET

downwires.jpg
Severe storm damage brought down lines such as this one near Route 7. (WTOP/Jim Battagliese)

UPDATE (July 3, 2:47 p.m.) - For the first time since facing mass outages starting Friday night, Verizon Wireless has released specific numbers to WTOP of their recovery efforts. A spokeswoman tells WTOP they have now returned 99 percent of their customers to full service.

Melonie Ortel refused offering any specific details on how many customers lost power in the aftermath of Friday's surprise derecho.

Learn more about Verizon's initial response, as well as the responses from other cell companies in, the original article, below.

Cox Cable offers specific guidance for customers as it works to restore service. Their tips are at bottom.

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WASHINGTON (7/3/2012, 4:05 p.m.) - Verizon is working to address vast outages for its customers, a spokesman says, but will not release specific numbers on those affected or how long it will take to repair.

Other phone companies that have completed repairs to their own infrastructure are now at the mercy of local power utilities struggling to bring the lights back on.

A "power issue" at a Verizon facility in Arlington has created several issues for customers using wireless, FiOS, cable and landline services, spokesman Harry Mitchell says. "More than 99 percent of our cell sites are in service in the Washington, northern Virginia and Baltimore areas as of 8 a.m," says Mike Maiorana, wireless regional president.

"There are still a few isolated cell sites out of service across the region," according to the company, "that we are working to restore as quickly as possible."

The company had the inability for some of its customers,in Fairfax and Prince William counties, to call 911. Verizon says it resolved the issue Monday and that all call centers are operational.

Verizon has been in close contact with 911 centers to inform them of the major outages, Mitchell says, but the company would not release specific numbers or estimates of those with dead lines.

In response to the interruption in the critical service, Mike Daigle, the company's vice president of engineering says, "We will thoroughly examine these issues to determine whether any design deficiencies exist, and we will take corrective action if any are found."

A spokeswoman for Sprint says 68 to 70 percent of the cell towers that went down have been restored as of Monday afternoon. Crews have repaired all of the damage due to breaks in the fiberoptic cables. Now the company has to wait on others before taking the towers off of automated or temporary generator power.

She declined to say specifically which local companies Sprint uses for their power, or how many cell towers Sprint has in the area, citing company "competitive reasons."

Sprint also cannot release their total number of customers in the D.C. area. Some, like Davis herself, had cellular service restored within a matter of hours. The upcoming holiday has eased their burden, she says.

"A lot of people have left town, thankfully," says Davis.

T-Mobile says 85 percent of its cell sites in Washington, D.C. are up and running. In Virginia, the cell service is at 92 percent. The cell phone company is pointing to widespread commercial outages. The company says it added a hundred mobile generators on Sunday to decrease service delays.

Comcast is also now waiting on local power companies to restore their grids, many of which were disconnected after heavy winds knocked down trees and poles.

"Given the severity of the winds and rain that arose from this storm, we are also seeing some more extensive damage caused by falling trees, poles and more that will take longer to repair," a spokesman tells WTOP in a statement. "Even though power might have been restored to an individual's home, there are instances where commercial power has not yet been fully restored to the local Comcast distribution point that serves the neighborhood.

"It appears most issues are directly related to commercial power outages, and for the vast majority of people, service should be restored as power comes back on to their homes," a spokeswoman says.

When pressed to provide some sort of estimate for the Verizon outage, Mitchell said, "We will focus on service 'restoral,' getting the information from customers and getting out and restoring service."

In a subsequent email to WTOP, Verizon spokeswoman Melanie Ortel said a "vast majority" or customers are able to make calls and send text messages throughout the D.C. area.

Verizon sustained no permanent damage to its infrastructure, Ortel said. She declined to offer specific outage numbers or a timetable of repairs.

Check out the full response from Verizon, below.

In the wake of the torrential storm on Friday, utility companies such as Pepco, BGE and Dominion Power have updated WTOP with rising and falling outage numbers as crews repair lines.

"Our focus is more on fixing the service that's in, identifying the areas that need repair and doing it," Mitchell says.

He cites the "sheer ferocity" of the storm, which has exceeded the damage caused by hurricanes in recent decades, with further complicating the scope of outages.

Verizon crews have had to deal with "a number of technical and mechanical challenges, in addition to storm damage such as downed poles and trees," in the wake of the Derecho Friday night, Mitchell says.

The company made headlines in April 2011 when it was called before the Maryland Public Service Commission to answer for a failure of 911 calls during snowstorms the previous January.

Bill Ferretti, deputy director of Montgomery County's 911 Call Center, told WTOP at that time that Verizon's improvements have mixed results.

"We had a case where they did everything perfectly. We had another case where they notified us, but then they failed to close out. They never told us it was fixed. So again, mixed communications," Ferretti said.

The Federal Communications Commission called the 911 failures "unacceptable" and conducted its own investigation.

This story will update. Stay with WTOP for more

Check out the full comment from Verizon:

The vast majority of customers are able to make calls and send text messages throughout Maryland, DC, and Virginia. In the overall scope of this weekend's storm-related events, significant progress was made quickly to provide wireless service to most of our customers.

We are aware of sporadic issues in parts of the area and our teams are engaged in restoral efforts 24x7. In order to deliver service to our customers, we've been working since early Saturday morning to ensure that backup power is running and have been working with suppliers to restore power and connectivity to the cell sites which are affected.

Due to the fact that our system is designed to withstand severe weather conditions, like those we endured during this weekend's storm, we're very fortunate that our infrastructure experienced no permanent damage.

Cox Cable

Check out these tips from the cable service for customers experiencing outages:

  • Even though a customer may have electricity, Dominion Power, or NOVEC, may still be working on their lines. Until the power companies give the all clear for an area, we cannot begin work on our lines. Once Cox receives the all clear, it will take time for Cox service technicians to restore service.

  • If your power is working, but your Cox service is not, please reset all of your Cox equipment. To reset equipment, customers should power down and unplug their set top box and/or cable modem, wait a few seconds, and then re-start. If you continue to experience a service outage after attempting to reset your devices, residential customers should contact our Cox Customer Care Center at (703) 378-8422.

  • Cox Business customers experiencing a storm related service outage should first attempt to reset their equipment by powering down and unplugging their set- top box and or modem, wait a few seconds and then re-start. If service is not restored, Cox Business customers should call (866) 272-5777 so that a repair and restoration ticket can be created.

  • Please be aware that we are currently experiencing higher than normal call volume following the aftermath of Friday's storm.

  • Cox customers in Northern Virginia that do not have electrical power or Internet access are welcome to visit a Cox Solutions Store (see locations below) for complimentary Wi-Fi access to check their email or access the Internet. Power strips are also available so that customers can charge their smartphones or laptops. In addition, free Wi-Fi is also available at Fair Oaks Mall, Fairfax, VA through a partnership with Cox.

    Cox Solutions Store locations:

    Fairfax Solutions Store
    11044 Lee Hwy
    Fairfax, VA 22030

    Herndon Solutions Store
    3080 Centreville Rd.
    Herndon, VA 20171

  • WTOP's Paul D. Shinkman and Dick Uliano contributed to this report. Follow Paul and WTOP on Twitter.

    (Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)