While all but a relative handful of electrical customers have been restored service after the devastation of Tropical Storm Iselle, about 1,600 Hawaiian Telcom customers remain without landline telephone and/or Internet service.
“Initially, about 14,000 Big Island customers, primarily in the Puna and Pahala areas, lost service as a result of the storm,” Hawaiian Telcom spokeswoman Ann Nishida Fry said in a Tuesday evening email. “By the following day, service was restored to about half of those.”
Nishida Fry said most still without service are in Puna and Pahala — the latter is in Ka‘u.
“We expect to restore service to the majority of impacted customers by mid-September, with the exception of the Nanawale (Estates) area,” she said. “Nanawale was the most heavily impacted by the storm and right now, we’re assessing the best approach to restore service to customers.”
She didn’t give an estimated date for service restoration in Nanawale.
Nishida Fry said Hawaiian Telcom crews are currently working on restoring service in Hawaiian Beaches, Leilani Estates and Hawaiian Paradise Park.
“In addition to our Big Island team, we have flown in additional crew and vehicles from Oahu to assist with the restoration effort,” she said. “We have approximately 100 employees working on the Big Island restoral efforts, including those supporting from Oahu in our finance, billing, logistics (packing/shipping materials), engineering and other departments.”
The Tribune-Herald has received complaints from several Puna customers claiming a lack of communication and incomplete, misleading and contradictory information from Hawaiian Telcom. A woman who lives in Hawaiian Paradise Park between Kaloli and Paradise drives said she was originally told her telephone and Internet service would be restored by Saturday and has now been told the timetable for restoration of service has been pushed back to Sept. 4.
“I called Hawaiian Tel and I said, ‘We are not going to have to pay our entire bill for three weeks, are we?’” said the woman, who requested anonymity. “And she (the customer service representative) said to me, ‘When you are reconnected, if you do not call and ask for a reduction in the price, you won’t get it.’”
The woman said she was told it would take two billing cycles for her to get a reduction on her bill.
“I don’t think that’s right,” said the woman, who added she has been without service since Aug. 8. “Why should we have to ask for it? That’s a big concern for people out here; there are a lot of people with no phone service. “We don’t have our phones; we don’t have our Internet. We have to go to McDonald’s (for Wi-Fi). And when I call Hawaiian Tel, I don’t find them to be helpful.”
Nishida Fry said the information the woman received would normally be correct, but not under the current circumstance.
“Our normal process to receive a Time Out of Service credit is for a customer to call in and (request one),” she said. “However, in this case for disruptions caused by Tropical Storm Iselle, Hawaiian Telcom is proactively issuing credits to affected customers so they do not need to call us.
“If a customer is inadvertently missed or does not receive the appropriate credit amount after two billing cycles, they should call our Billing Office at 643-3343 or submit a support request via our website.”
The HPP resident said she had service in the immediate aftermath of Iselle, but Hawaiian Telcom “literally cut it off.”
Nishida Fry conceded circumstances necessitated intentional cutting of lines in some cases.
“In a few areas, some of our large cables had to be cut in order to clear the roadways quickly and allow access in and out of Puna,” she explained.
The HPP resident said the frustration level among Hawaiian Telcom customers still without service is mounting.
“We don’t think we’re getting the help like we got from HELCO,” she said. “HELCO was on the spot immediately. It took 12 days for us to get our power, but the phone service, we don’t quite understand what’s going on, why it’s taking so long.”
Nishida Fry said Hawaiian Telcom is smaller than Hawaiian Electric Companies, HELCO’s corporate parent, and isn’t capable of putting as many personnel in the field.
“I don’t think we’re close to the numbers of people the power company was able to send,” she said.
Nishida Fry called restoration “a multi-step process” and said the phone company’s crews “have worked closely with the power company and the County since the storm subsided.”
“HELCO was trying to push the message out, and we’re trying to echo it, that for safety reasons, they do have to go first,” she said. “… Most times, when we’re dealing with poles, you’re going to need several different crews — one to clear away (downed poles and lines), another to plant the pole, and another to put up the cabling. And we would come after that.
“… Our process includes removing destroyed cable, reattaching new cable and splicing each of the lines individually to begin restoring service. Splicing the individual cable pairs must be done in the proper sequence, so it is a painstaking process.”
Nishida Fry said the phone company is providing free Wi-Fi at HPP Activity Center and Pahoa Community Center between 8 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Consumers need to bring their own wireless devices such as laptop computers, tablets and smartphones. Wi-Fi centers at Hawaiian Shores Community Center and Nanawale Community Center have been closed at the request of the facilities’ operators.
“Hawaiian Telcom values our customers and we want them to know we are working hard to restore their services that were impacted by the storm,” Nishida Fry said.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.