(Oct. 19, 2005) -- Although we don't always share Verizon rep Mike Murray's opinions on civic matters, we admire the fact that he doesn't equivocate. We can't recall any time we've ever heard Mr. Murray speak on public matters in which he parsed words or tried to tapdance.
That served him well on Oct. 18 when he was called upon to explain a system wide failure of hard wired telephones across much of Verizon's southeast L.A. County service area -- including 911 emergency service. (Verizon DSL apparently continued to work; so did some cellphones in some places).
Flanked by LB officials at an afternoon news conference, Mr. Murray said the problem stemmed from a computer problem in Verizon's downtown LB office. Yes, the system has backups and redundancies; no, they didn't work; yes, the company is trying to determine what happened. A reporter asked, "Could it happen again?" Without equivocation, Mr. Murray replied, "Yes, it could." As we said, he doesn't tapdance.
At that night's City Council meeting, Mr. Murray reiterated the computer problem. He further indicated that Verizon's president has vowed to get to the bottom of what happened. Mr. Murray added that the company would report to city management on the findings.
That's entirely appropriate, because LB 911 and other LB city services were directly affected...but what about Verizon's other customers? Although the Mayor chirped in on Mr. Murray's behalf and tried to liken what happened to an unexpected surprise, the fact is this wasn't just a little surprise.
It was a big deal. It was costly. It required LBPD and LBFD to do what they anticipated doing for a major natural disaster, like an earthquake, not some computer failure. This is especially disturbing in a major U.S. city with national homeland security considerations...on top of local public safety calls. As best we know now, nothing serious happened...but LBPD Deputy Chief/Acting Chief Tim Jackman accurately pointed out that there's no way to know (for now) exactly how many 911 calls for service were missed.
Residents couldn't call employers, reach infirm family members, communicate with schools (and vice versa) or doctors in emergencies. LB businesses were disabled for hours. LBReport.com had news reports ready to post at dawn but wasn't able to do so until about 11:30 a.m. Although many LB modem-equipped web users couldn't get online themselves, others (including with Verizon DSL and Charter Cable) could...and we apologize to them for our delay. For the record, we are taking steps to ensure that doesn't happen again.
We respect the fact that Verizon is being tightlipped about details of the outage until it knows exactly what happened...but there is no good reason for the company to remain tightlipped after it learns what happened.
One computer location shouldn't be able to bring down an entire system. A major U.S. city can't be expected to rely on rebooting and hoping a new backup may work.
The internet was created to provide a communication network that isn't vulnerable to failure of a centralized system. If Verizon's network is subject to exactly that type of vulnerability, LB should begin exploring alternatives to it, wireline or otherwise.
Verizon basically has a monopoly on intrastate wireline service, regulated through the CA Public Utilities Commission. That means you and I and other Verizon customers paid for the Verizon computer system that failed. All of us as rate-paying Verizon customers -- not just LB's City Manager -- have a right to know what Verizon promised and what it delivered based on exactly what happened.
We urge the CA Public Utilities Commission to initiate a formal inquiry into what happened, and to compare what Verizon promised with what was delivered in the October 18 system failure.
Kudos to LBPD, LBFD and multiple LB agencies (including Technical Services whiz Curtis Tani explicitly credited by LBFD Chief Dave Ellis), city staffers and their boss City Manager Jerry Miller for work under very difficult conditions. Unfortunately, that extra lifting almost certainly cost LB taxpayers a bundle. What, if anything, is Verizon willing to do to make its residential and business consumers whole for what happened?
Once upon a time, Verizon was "General Telephone." At one point about 20-something years ago, we seem to recall the CPUC capped General Telephone's profits to create pressure to adjust its attitude...and things improved a lot. Ancient mechanical switches disappeared, replaced by computer systems. It was a sea change...and Verizon is not the same company "General Telephone" was.