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AT&T Replacing Outdoor Batteries After Explosions

Municipal officials, long critical of the size and placement of powering cabinets needed to back up AT&T's U-verse video service, now have concerns that range beyond aesthetics. Sometimes, the units explode.
The provider has acknowledged the problem, announcing it will replace 17,000 lithium batteries in powering cabinets around the country.

"Normally, we would work with a vendor to diagnose problems and develop solutions. We can't do this in this case because Avestor (the manufacturer of the suspect batteries) filed for bankruptcy in October 2006 and closed shortly thereafter. As a result, we have decided to move forward with the removal of all Avestor batteries as soon as possible," the company said in a statement forwarded by Destiny Belknap Varghese, a PR consultant with AT&T's outside communications firm, Fleishman-Hillard.

The cabinets, known as 52Bs, have exploded in Ohio and Texas, with the latest incident in Wauwatosa, Wisc. on Christmas morning. The vault exploded and caught fire. It burned no other structures.

One telecommunications lawyer, Jonathan Kramer of Kramer Telecommunications Law Firm in Los Angeles, is advising his clients to advise all telecommunications providers in the public rights of way to remove Avestor batteries immediately. Other cable providers also have battery back-ups, for in California state rules mandate the ability to run at least eight hours without external power. However, only the Avestor brand are known to be a problem.

While immediate replacement could disrupt AT&T's services, "convenience does not outweigh public safety," Kramer said. There is no time table attached to AT&T's voluntary replacement of the batteries, he noted, adding it shouldn't be left up to AT&T to decide who's safe and who's not.