AT&T to replace Hurricane Irma-damaged copper in Florida with fiber

two utility workers setting up a fiber cabinet on a sidewalk
AT&T will replace legacy copper facilities with fiber in the Florida Keys following last year's hurricane. (Image: btphotosbduk / CC BY 2.0)

AT&T is going to migrate its copper facilities in the Florida Keys due to severe damage caused by last September’s Hurricane Irma to a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network infrastructure.

Severe flooding due to the hurricane destroyed several facilities, including buildings, utility poles, aerial cable (both electric and telecom) and street signs.

The service provider said in an FCC filing that “the storm surge caused severe flooding in surrounding low-land areas and caused damage to AT&T equipment that remained under salt water for many days.”

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After the hurricane ended, AT&T filed an application for emergency authorization under Section 214(a) of the Communications Act and Section 63.63 of the Federal Communications Commission’s rules to suspend AT&T’s interstate telecommunications services until services can be rebuilt in November.

AT&T determined that Hurricane Irma left its copper network beyond repair and that it would need to rebuild it with fiber facilities.

“As a result of Hurricane Irma, AT&T Florida determined that the copper facilities comprising the below - Distribution Areas (DAs)in Sugarloaf Key, Florida and Big Pine Key, Florida wire centers suffered severe and/or irreparable damage,” AT&T said in the filing. “Although AT&T Florida restored service to several customers on temporary copper facilities, AT&T has or will replace the copper distribution plant and service wires (Drops) in these DAs with a permanent Sugarloaf Key, FL Big Pine Key, FL network solution known as Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON)/Fiber to the Premises (FTTP).”

While AT&T has been selectively retiring copper in parts of its footprint, weather events have been forcing it and other large providers to replace legacy facilities with fiber in recent years.

AT&T is hardly alone. Verizon faced a similar situation in New York and New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2013.

In New York City, Verizon central offices at Broad Street and Bell Harbor in Queens were destroyed. However, the damage at these facilities gave the company an opportunity to transition them all to fiber, for example.