New CA bill requires cell towers be powered during emergencies, power outages

LAFAYETTE, Calif. (KGO) -- Legislation introduced in Sacramento this morning would require telecommunications companies to ensure that cell phone towers would not go dead for at least 72 hours in the case of an emergency or Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS), like the ones conducted by PG&E last October.

RELATED: Cell phone outages caused by power blackout spark safety concerns

Senate Bill 431, sponsored by Calif. Sen. Mike McGuire (D) of Healdsburg and Calif. Sen. Steve Glazer (D) of Orinda would require companies like AT&T and Verizon to provide battery backup to their hundreds of cell towers.

The bill also demands that cell users get warnings when the backup power is running low or is about to run out.

"It's all about life and death," said McGuire, at a Sacramento press conference to announced SB 431. "Residents rely on their cell phones and landlines as their lifelines during disasters. Imagine as many have on the North Coast, looking out your living room window and seeing a wall of blistering flames coming at your home. You gather your family, prepare to evacuate and then you call 911 and then that call doesn't go through because you can't get a strong enough cell signal."

Acccording to a Federal Communications Commission Disaster Report, during PG&E's PSPS last October 28th, Marin County lost power to 160 cell sites, a full 57% of the county's towers.

In Calaveras County, 39% of the cell sites were down and 27% in Sonoma County.

In a written statement, PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith told ABC7 News that the utility conducted preparedness workshops for telecommunications providers in 2018 and a more specific PSPS webinar with cell providers in 2019.

RELATED: Telecom executives face California Public Utilities Commission on outages during power shutoffs

Verizon issued a response, saying:

"Verizon is proud to testify during today's hearing about how its network continued to serve customers during the unprecedented proactive power shutoffs in October. For example, at the height of events on October 28, the FCC reported on that an aggregate 27% of wireless service provider cell sites were out of service in Sonoma County due the power shutoffs, while Verizon experienced 7% of its sites out of service at the time. Similarly, the FCC reported that 57% of all industry cell sites in Marin County were out of service, whereas Verizon experienced only 8% of its cell sites out of service during the same time period."

The CITA sent the following statement:

"The wireless industry invests significant resources to prepare for when disaster strikes. Every network is uniquely designed and power failures, especially those of the magnitude of PSPS, cannot be solved by a one-size-fits-all approach. We stand ready to continue our work with all stakeholders to ensure that wireless is there when Californians need it most."

SB 431 is part of a package of bills designed to provide backup power to not only cell towers, but also hospitals, and vulnerable individuals, such as the disabled.
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