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Cable Battles Winter Storm Outages Across Country

A parked car covered in snow in McKinney, Texas, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021.
(Image credit: Cooper Neill/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Cable operators across the Northwest and Southwest were working hard to restore service in the wake of winter storm Uri, and braced for a second storm -- Viola -- which was expected to deliver another severe blow to a swath ranging from Texas to New York on Thursday.

Winter storm Uri originated in the Pacific Northwest on Feb. 12, dumping a record 11.1 inches of snow in Seattle, but impacting other less populated areas more severely as freezing temperatures and ice played havoc with the power grid. In Texas, the storm dumped heavy snow and ice -- it was the first time the National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Warning for all 254 counties at the same time -- shutting down power in hundreds of communities, making roads impassable and leaving millions of Texans scrambling to find heat and supplies. The storm crippled the natural gas grid in several Texas communities, sending residents to shelters. As of Feb. 18, about 38 people nationwide died as a result of the storm. 

Freezing temperatures led to burst water pipes and prompted officials to urge residents in communities like Austin and Houston to boil water before drinking. In some areas, residents resorted to barbecue grills, stoves, fireplaces and their cars for heat. 

As Texans struggled with the aftermath of Uri, a second storm -- dubbed Viola -- made its way across the eastern part of the country on Thursday, but first dumping between ¼-inch and ½-inch of ice on Texas and Louisiana, and promising slick roads, freezing rain and snow. 

According to BlueFire Studios, which tracks power outages across the country, less than 450,000 Texans were without power as of Thursday afternoon, a big improvement over the 4.3 million homes that were without service on Monday. In Louisiana and Mississippi, about 122,000 and 178,000 homes, respectively, were without power. In Oregon, according to BlueFire, about 101,000 homes were without electricity. 

Across the country, cable operators stepped up to the challenge of restoring service, and pitched in to help their respective communities.

In Texas, Cable One has donated $15,000, food and supplies to support relief efforts in the markets it serves, distributing funds to local non-profit agencies including the Salvation Army.

"Our hearts are with the Texas residents who have been impacted by this winter storm," Cable One CEO Julie Laulis said in a statement.  "After ensuring our associates and their families are safe, our primary focus will be on restoring service to our customers as quickly as possible following the restoration of local power. We understand how critical connectivity is in times like these and we are committed to keeping our customers and communities connected."

In Oregon, about 125,000 Comcast customers were without power earlier in the week as a result of the storms. That number had been pared to 76,000 homes by Feb. 16, according to reports, and the company continues to work hard to restore service where it can.

According to The Oregonian, Comcast is the Northwest’s largest  internet provider, with more than 600,000 customers in Oregon and Washington state. Most of the internet service disruptions are due to power outages. Once power is restored, it usually takes about a day or less for internet service to come back. But that can depend on the severity of the storm’s impact on local areas. For some neighborhoods with downed lines and other issues, it could take longer for service to be restored. 

Comcast, according to the newspaper, has already brought in service technicians from surrounding Oregon communities and California to help with repairs and technicians are working around the clock, in 12-hour shifts. 

“The top priority is for our technicians, in close alignment with our local utility companies, to work as quickly and safely as possible to resolve all service outages,” Comcast said in a statement. “In some cases, customers may have power but not their Xfinity services because commercial power has not been restored in that area. To help everyone stay connected during the storm, Xfinity WiFi Hotspots are open to the general public.”

AT&T said on Feb. 17 it was continuously monitoring the impact of the storm and as of that time its network was working at 99% of normal across impacted areas. The telco said it was also opening up its network to other providers to ensure that communications lines remained open, and has generators to support its cell sites. 

“While some areas may be inaccessible because of storm debris, downed power lines and icy road conditions, we are working to restore service as quickly and as safely as conditions allow,” AT&T said on its website. “Meanwhile, our teams continue to deploy and stage an arsenal of additional network recovery equipment to support customers and first responders, including SatCOLTs coming on air in Texas and hundreds generators across the storm’s path. Our teams and FirstNet liaisons are in contact with federal, state and local officials on our deployment efforts to support public safety and the communities in the impacted areas.”

Charter Communications, which has systems in several Texas communities, said that most of the outages in the state were overwhelmingly due to the loss of power. A spokesman said in an email message that there has been no significant network damage and service restoration is tracking closely to the return of power and the end of rolling blackouts. 

“Our crews are out making localized repairs wherever they can do so safely and can access damage sites,” the spokesman said. ”We have a number of retail store closures, again, largely due to power outages.”

Mike Farrell

Michael Farrell is senior content producer — finance.