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Cable Operators

Cable Ops Assess Charley’s Toll

8/21/2004 12:00 AM Eastern

Hurricane Charley might total out at more than $7.4 billion in damages to become Florida’s second-most-costly storm ever, but cable companies were still trying to assess damage in the hardest-hit areas.

In some communities -- such as Punta Gorda, which took the brunt of the storm, and barrier islands such as Sanibel and Captiva -- authorities did not even open the area to residents until Aug. 18, a full five days after the storm hit.

By the morning of Aug. 19, 113,000 consumers were still without electricity, according to Florida Power & Light. Cable operators need the power flowing to determine what plant survived the whipping sustained during the hurricane’s 150-miles-per-hour-plus winds.

As of late in the week, Time Warner Cable was still trying to determine how many homes even remained in its 85,000-subscriber Punta Gorda system, let alone ones with serviceable drops.

By midweek, one-half of its customers there remained without power, and restoration work was slowed by thunderstorms and lightning Wednesday, according to the power company.

Time Warner spokesman Keith Cocozza said electricity was restored to the company’s Cape Coral headend by Aug. 18, and power had been restored to consumers beyond Punta Gorda, but the status of the plant at the site of the hurricane’s landfall remained undetermined.

Time Warner, Comcast Corp. and other local cable operators did what they could to mitigate damages during the run-up to the storm.

Others, such as Adelphia Communications Corp., took pre-emptive measures, shuttering regional call centers.

The two biggest challenges to recovery in hard-hit Charlotte County were obtaining the fuel to run trucks and communications, said Steve Dvoskin, regional vice president for Comcast’s Gulf Coast operation.

The MSO sent all company trucks out for fuel in advance of the storm and advised workers to take the vehicles home in case the office took a direct hit, he added.

But in the wake of the storm, gasoline became so scarce that employees had to drive as far away as Sarasota, carrying 55-gallon drums, to fetch fuel for the fleet to continue mop-up operations.

Comcast workers also lacked a vital communications link: The winds knocked down cellular-phone towers. The operator has obtained about one-dozen satellite phones that have been deployed to key areas in Charlotte and Lee counties.

Comcast also closed two local call centers during the storm, which sustained little damage and were quickly back on line after it passed. But like Time Warner, Comcast was waiting at the end of the week for a chance to assess what was left of its Sanibel Island plant.

Comcast’s Gulf Coast division serves 700,000 subscribers.

Because operators were still in recovery mode, they have yet to address the long-term impact of the storm. Officials have not estimated the final count of lost housing stock, which will mean months of lost revenue for cable companies.

For more on Hurricane Charley’s impact, please see Linda Haugsted’s story on page one of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.

September