Liberty cable service depends on Puerto Rico power utility to reconnect customers
SAN JUAN – A month after Hurricane María ravaged Puerto Rico, Liberty Puerto Rico, the island’s largest cable-TV and -internet provider, is still repairing its infrastructure while working with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) because, without electric power and with the severe damage to its aerial distribution system, it cannot provide service to its 400,000 subscribers.
“Our network is in a very difficult position—at least 400,000 subscribers consume our services—and today they don’t have any service. We are anxious to begin again our operations and we depend on electric power service. Once [Prepa] gives us the green light, we will be able to continue working in that direction. We are hopeful to speed up our pace so we can continue restoring operations, because although communities still need to connect to our network, once [Prepa] energizes it, it will become a positive experience,” said Mike Fries, the CEO of Liberty Global, “the world largest international TV and broadband company.”
The executive said his company has the resources, people and technology to improve its system, but added that all those elements are wasted if there is no electric power service. Liberty Puerto Rico is also holding talks with other cable companies in the mainland U.S., as well as in the local region, for additional support to re-establish its network.
Regarding repair work on the infrastructure, the executive director of Liberty Puerto Rico, Naji Khoury, explained that although the company has a greater portion of the available fiber-optic service, it cannot be used because there is no electric power. In addition, because some of its cables travel aerially using Prepa’s distribution system or poles, the company does not have authorization to utilize them up because they are Prepa’s property.
In sectors that currently have electric power service, according to information provided by Prepa for the status.pr webpage, only 25% of Puerto Rico’s power generating capacity has been reached. Detailed information can be accessed through the interactive map prepared by the Puerto Rico Statistics Institute.
As a result of Prepa’s collapsed distribution system, where a majority of Liberty’s network is housed, Caribbean Business asked about the status of work to bury cables to prevent service failures in the near future.
“We are putting the cables underground whenever we can throughout Puerto Rico, specifically the ring that crosses the island, but sometimes there are limitations because there are other cables or environmental conditions or we have to mark them, if not we go aerial [with posts]. But we always put them underground as much as we can,” Khoury said.
The executive also said that even though there is competition among companies, they are beginning to form alliances to share specialized products that use this type of underground connection.
Meanwhile, Khoury said that besides technicians who always work on repairs to the network, the company has deployed additional personnel to expedite the recovery process.
According to Khoury, the company has 948 employees, of whom just over 20% are technicians, and 50 crews work around the island. He emphasized that the company does not contemplate layoffs and asserted that all employees have been incorporated into the company’s recovery process. In addition, the company has hundreds of contractors dedicated to the rebuilding of its network.
On the investment that has been required by the company to restore the system, Fries said there are no exact figures yet, but expects to reveal them next month.