AT&T Cable Lines Remain on Ground, Raising Risk of Sierra City Outages

By Stephen Kulieke

A month after phone and internet outages struck all Sierra City residences and businesses over the busy Memorial Day holiday weekend, the cable lines providing the town’s telecommunication services remain on the ground, raising the risk of further outages.

Incredibly, since a 2017-18 winter storm brought the AT&T lines, they have lain strewn along the ground about eight miles above Downieville in the Fournier Ranch area. 

Tim Beals, Sierra County Director of Public Works, Roads, and Transportation, recalled that during that winter, the lines were patched together  by AT&T with the promise that they would be repaired fully in the spring. This never happened.

“[The lines] are so exposed and vulnerable to damage it makes me cringe. For years we’ve skated past a real problem,” Beals said. 

Junction box and cable line on the ground above Fournier Ranch Road on June 27, 2021.

Beals has recently reached out to AT&T again about the lack of maintenance and follow- through in Sierra County by the telecommunications giant but he has yet to hear back. 

“We’re at the end of the line and we’re being treated that way. [It seems to take] an act of Congress to get AT&T to talk to you,” he added.

In our June 3rd coverage of the Memorial Day outages, The Mountain Messenger contacted AT&T’s corporate headquarters in Dallas, Texas, and reprinted their  general comment regarding the local disruption to AT&T UVERSE phone, internet and TV services in Sierra City —including an inability to place 911 emergency calls.

We recently contacted AT&T again, asking specifically if the lines on the ground were the cause of the outages and when these lines would finally be repaired. In a statement provided by a corporate spokesperson last Sunday, AT&T did not respond to the cause of Sierra City outages but said they are working on repairs, acknowledging the fallen and exposed cable lines:

“We are working to repair portions of damaged fiber cable near Downieville as quickly as possible. Repairs will include removal of any fiber cables on the ground.”

As The Messenger went to press, however, AT&T has taken no corrective action to raise the cable lines. 

Lee Kirby told The Mountain Messenger on Tuesday night that  while AT&T trucks have been active recently in her Fournier Ranch subdivision, nothing visibly has changed.  “The lines are still on the ground,”  she said.

Kirby is the retired CEO of the Sierra County Superior Court. She took the accompanying photos of the downed lines on her Fournier Ranch property this past Sunday, June 27.

Kirby recalled when the lines first came down  on her property during the winter three years ago and what AT&T did afterwards. “They spliced it together with joiners on the ground.  {The lines] should all be in lockboxes off the ground. We’ve been complaining forever. They’ve lost track of us.”

ositive sign.”

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is the state agency that regulates private utilities in the state, including telecommunication companies like AT&T.  The Mountain Messenger contacted the CPUC for comment and provided the commission photos of AT&T’s downed cable lines in Sierra County. 

A CPUC spokesperson replied with the following statement: “The CPUC is committed to ensuring that utilities provide safe and reliable service to their customers. As such, we are looking into the downed wires to determine if AT&T is in violation of our rules and regulations so we can take appropriate action.”

Since the Memorial Day outages, reports of  extended internet interruptions and spotty phone service remain all too common in Sierra City.

The U.S. Post Office in Sierra City was without internet service for 13 days until it came back online on June 26, according to Administrative Postmaster Dianne Fink. She oversees the post offices in Calpine, Blairsden, Cromberg, Clio, and Sierra City. With the internet down, Fink said staff at the Sierra City Post Office were unable to do credit card transactions or look up the delivery status of packages. Staff had to be complete reports they’re required to file at one of the other post offices. 

Like most businesses, “The post office works on the internet,” she said. “We made it work for the most part. But it was frustrating and an inconvenience for customers.”

“Temporary” repair from the winter of 2017-
Photo courtesy of Lee Kirby.

The internet was also recently down for several days at the Sierra City Library. Those using the online services the library offers include people seeking jobs, students doing research, and Pacific Crest Trail hikers checking in with family and friends—said library Station Manager Mary Wright. AT&T was able to reconnect the library’s internet on June 23, and Wright said she was told by a company representative that other customers also had been affected because  the system is strained and there’s “only so much bandwidth to go around.”

Cindy and Glen Haubl own the Sierra Pines Resort in Sierra City and like other local businesses were unable to run credit card purchases during the Memorial Day outage. “You can’t operate a business that way,” Cindy Haubl told The Messenger.

Although she said the resort hasn’t had another issue since Memorial Day, her biggest complaint is that you can’t get help or technical support from AT&T.

With the reliability of ongoing telecommunications service remaining questionable, she has spoken with an AT&T sales representative about the resort getting its own stand-alone and dedicated fiber optic line. “But it’s very expensive,” Cindy Haubl noted.

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