AT&T is not being transparent about exploding cabinets

    Editor’s note: The following letter was written by Robert Chernow, chairman of the Regional Telecommunications Commission, which represents 35 cities, towns and villages in Wisconsin. The letter was written to Scott VanderSander, president of AT&T Wisconsin, after reports that batteries in cabinets housing equipment for the AT&T U-Verse service were exploding in public areas.

    Dear Mr. Vander Sander:
    AT&T’s cabinets that are placed in the rights of way of the community members of the Regional Telecommunication Commission present a significant danger to our citizens.
    The safety issue relates to explosions and fires in at least four cabinets that are being caused by defective batteries manufactured by a now bankrupt company. On Dec. 24, 2007, one of your cabinets exploded in Wauwatosa. If the cabinet had been next to a wooden building, not a brick building, there would have been a major fire.
    There may be many more incidents than the one in Wauwatosa, two in Houston and one in Cleveland. This is because you have not been transparent regarding this safety issue.
    AT&T has been lucky that no one has been killed or injured in the residential areas where you have located these cabinets.
    This issue is not a new. As Chair of the 35-member Regional Telecommunications Commission, I have tried to get responses from AT&T-Wisconsin regarding these explosions for over 1-1/2 years. Except for a vague letter last summer, we have been met with silence.
    In January 2007, I visited Madison to ask the Department of Transportation to give us the rights of way locations that the DOT gave AT&T.
    Your lawyers forced the DOT to stall by several months our ability to obtain this public information. Finally after a threat of a lawsuit, we obtained the locations so that we could alert local fire and police departments to possible problems.
    The Department of Financial Institutions wrote us that they do not have jurisdiction over AT&T-Wisconsin per recent legislation since you have not applied for a franchise. Therefore, we have asked the Public Service Commission to assist us. Additionally, we are writing you directly.
    We want to insure that AT&T-Wisconsin removes this known and dangerous hazard to our communities.
    We want to avoid the deaths or serious injury of our citizens and their families.
    We request that you do the following:
    Place warning signs on each affected cabinet that will alert residents that these cabinets might explode and cause a fire.
    Replace all defective batteries within three weeks.
    Remove all defective batteries within four weeks, even if replacements have not been found.
    Make public the outside engineering report you have kept secret. 
    The Regional Telecommunications Commission has 35 members and has been in existence for over 20 years. A list of our member communities is attached.


    Bob Chernow
    Regional Telecommunications Commission

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