Phone communication came to an almost complete halt Tuesday, March 23 at around 1:00 p.m. when a backhoe digging a trench on FM 289 between Comfort and Boerne accidentally cut through an AT&T fiber optic cable. The backhoe operator was employed by Byrd Brothers Emergency Services, which is based out of Wilson, North Carolina. Flags that should have marked the location of underground lines were absent according to personnel on the scene.
The cut caused customers of cellular service from AT&T, Verizon and Sprint to lose service and for landlines to be limited to same-exchange dialing only. Residents of Blanco, Johnson City, Marble Falls, Fredericksburg, Kerrville, and Horseshoe Bay could make no long distance calls. 911 services for the areas affected were also down, so 911 calls were rerouted to nearby substations. Blanco’s were rerouted into Burnet County.
Use of credit cards and debit cards, as well as the Lone Star card was severely limited because stores and banks rely on phone lines to transmit information.
Johnson City Super S store manager, Stuart Wagner said, “We were able to take credit and debit cards, but customers were unable to get cash back.”
Wal-Mart in Fredericksburg also experienced difficulties due to the outage, including the need to revert back to the old standard of customers handwriting all checks instead of them sent through the system automatically. Lone Star, the state’s debit system for food stamps, was also affected, leaving some customers unable to utilize their benefits.
Fiber-optic lines carry phone and internet traffic and multiple providers often use the same trunk line. Such was the case with the damaged line this time. AT&T owns the line, but Lee Gierczynski, spokesman for Verizon, said that Verizon leases the use of the line.
Once the fiber-optic lines are damaged, crews must splice the line back together, which can take several hours because each wire must be done just right.
Service was restored on Tuesday evening at about 8:15 p.m., once crews completed the repairs.