Your World Delivered . . . On Fire

Posted on January 12, 2008 - 9:59am.
VRAD Article image

Another AT&T U-verse VRAD Cabinet Explodes

Updates 1/15/08:
AT&T Begins Massive Battery Replacement (Light Reading).
Wauwatosa residents had expressed safety concerns over AT&T cabinets (Save Access)
Additional Photos (Light Reading 1/22/08)

In the early hours of Christmas morning, an AT&T VRAD cabinet (DSLAM) exploded in the city of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Only days earlier, Governor Jim Doyle had signed Assembly Bill 207, a statewide cable franchise bill pushed through by AT&T despite the best efforts of municipalities and public interest advocates to stop it. A saveaccess reader concerned over the lack of any local or regional news coverage sent us the following note with the attached photos:

"There has been another AT&T Cabinet fire, this time in Wisconsin. At 12:30 am 12/25/07 an AT&T Cabinet at 64th Street and North Avenue in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, exploded and caught fire. The burned cabinet was removed between 4 and 5 am and replaced with a new cabinet by 7 am. The techs worked on the new cabinet all day. This cabinet was originally across the street, but was moved next to an office building at the request of neighbors and the city. Luckily the building is all brick and did not burn. Inquires with the city have said that AT&T met with city officials and are bringing in an AT&T official from San Antonio to look into the problem."

The cause of the explosion and fire, according to Wauwatosa Fire Department Assistant Chief Jeffrey S. Hevey, was due to equipment failure caused by an electrical problem. He noted that the fire appeared to have started in the area near the battery where heat and fire damage was most severe. Though unconfirmed (pending AT&T's investigation), the source may have originated from a Avestor lithium battery which was the cause of two similar explosions of identical 52B VRAD cabinets in Texas (see Light Reading). Chief Hevey noted that the destroyed VRAD cabinet had been installed in July 2006 and that the new replacement is now powered by several lead-acid batteries. According to Light Reading, AT&T has more than 17,000 Avestor lithium batteries in its network to power their VRAD U-verse cabinets (Avestor has since filed for bankruptcy and closed).

Chief Hevey reports that a witness heard popping sounds coming from the cabinet followed by a fire. Minutes later the cabinet exploded, blasting the metal doors about five feet away. In the course of his investigation, Chief Hevey said he looked at photos of the Texas fire and found the damage to the cabinets and internal components to be a mirror image of one another (see Light Reading 1 and 2). AT&T has since sent the Wauwatosa cabinet to their forensic lab and has not yet concluded tests. The City of Wauwatosa has put a hold on any new cabinet installations by AT&T's pending the company's investigation and report on the recent mishap.

The large 52B VRAD cabinets used by AT&T for their U-verse services have been a controversy from the beginning. Municipalities around the country have fought for control over the placement of these hulking boxes in local public rights of way, and in the case of Geneva, Illinois, the battle led to the courts and the state legislature. Compounding the problem has been AT&T's pressure on states to pass state-wide video franchises, legislation which has attempted to pre-empt local authority and oversight over public rights of way.

Given that this latest mishap comes over a year after the Texas fires, one wonders if AT&T is really tracking down and replacing their potentially explosive equipment. Fortunately in the Wauwatosa case, the city previously requested that the VRAD cabinet be moved off the public right of way and away from several residences. It was then moved onto private property by AT&T where it abutted a masonry wall of a building. Yet, with so many of the Avestor lithium batteries apparently still in service (links:1 | 2 | 3) and now that AT&T claims to 'pass' 30 million homes with it's U-verse service, the next mishap might not be so harmless. AT&T raced to remove the evidence and replace the toasted Wauwatosa cabinet (on Christmas day no less), hopefully they will now move as quickly to replace all the faulty batteries throughout their network.

Other News Coverage
Broadband Reports: AT&T Replacing 17,000 U-Verse Batteries
The AT&T's TV efforts Smolder
The TV: AT&T Video Hits the Wall
MultiChannel News: AT&T Replacing Vault Batteries After Explosions
More Media Links

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( categories: AT&T | WISCONSIN )