TINA L. SCOTT
The internet and communications blackout lasted from mid-morning Tuesday, August 24 until late in the evening, leaving most homes and businesses in Merrill without service for about 12 hours. The majority lost Internet service and charter phone service, as well as AT&T cell service, but many other cell phone users still had cell service initially. Then, later that day, many of them also experienced cell phone interruptions, followed by total cell service outages. A severed cable line was blamed for the failure.
In response to the outage, the Merrill Fire Department requested a deployable communications tower from FirstNet. said Chief Josh Klug. “FirstNet is a wireless broadband network specifically designed for first responders. “
“When we have an outage, we call FirstNet and start the process for requesting a deployable communications truck,” he explained. “Maintaining communications during an outage is part of FirstNet’s requirement to provide service to first responders. The trucks are located all over the country, but we usually get one in our region, the Midwest. “
“When we called that day, we were first told the truck would be coming from South Dakota, but it ended up coming from Green Bay. It was probably the fourth or fifth time that we had asked for them, but it was the first time that they were establishing communications while they were on site here in Merrill, ”said Klug. “As FirstNet and AT&T share towers, this is why some AT&T customers may have picked up service earlier on Wednesday evening. “
“We generally found that most of our outages in Merrill were attributed to Spectrum Charter having issues with their lines that support cell towers,” he added. “When their lines collapse, the towers collapse. Most of the time, Charter fixes their things before the deployable communications truck arrives here and settles down. “
Last Tuesday evening was the exception. The FirstNet deployable communications truck probably “broadcast” for 30 minutes before the regular towers were fixed, which is what Klug said they were told.
“Before that, FirstNet technicians told us that cell phone towers might not be repaired until the next morning,” he added. However, services were restored late Monday evening.
“With outages like the ones we have, it’s important that the public have a back-up plan for communications,” Klug said. “If your cell phone isn’t working, what would you call 9-1-1? Do you still have a landline? What supplier does your neighbor have? “
This reminder was timely, as Gov. Tony Evers has declared September the month of readiness.