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Damaged fiber optic line causes 911 outages in several south-central Wisconsin counties

Damaged fiber optic line causes 911 outages in several south-central Wisconsin counties

Frontier Communications working to fix broken cable line

Frontier Communications crews east of Poynette restored service, including 911, by about 6 p.m. to the four counties affected when a third-party excavator damaged a fiber-optic line Monday at about noon. 

A damaged fiber-optic line caused several south-central Wisconsin counties to lose 911 and some phone and internet services for nearly six hours Monday.

Columbia, Adams, Juneau and Marquette counties reported losing 911 services. Frontier Communications internet and phone customers also lost service.

The outage was caused by a broken fiber-optic line, said Frontier Communications spokesman Andy Malinoski. Emergency 911 service was restored at about 6 p.m.

The line was damaged by a excavator not associated with Frontier at about noon east of Poynette, Malinoski said. He said he didn’t know who was digging in the area or why.

“Frontier crews were immediately dispatched and are working to repair the damage,” Malinoski said just before 911 service was restored. “We thank our customers and the communities we serve for their patience as our team works to restore service as quickly and as safely possible.”

At about 1 p.m., the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office sent out a message through the Nixle text message application, telling residents that “911 lines are down in Columbia County” and directing emergency calls to the Columbia County Dispatch Center’s direct phone line.

Monday’s outage appeared to be limited to Frontier customers, including county law enforcement.

Callers dialing 911 would instead get a busy signal, said Juneau County Dispatch Supervisor Michelle Lobenstein.

Columbia and the three other counties also used social media to alert residents to the outages and to tell them how to call authorities in case of an emergency.

Columbia County Sheriff Dennis Richards said he wasn’t aware of anybody having major problems contacting dispatchers in his county. He said his staff scrambled to figure out a backup solution and how to notify residents when they found out their 911 system was down.

“I am just glad it is back and running,” Richards said.

Steve Fenske, east-central region director of Wisconsin Emergency Management, said the agency was aware of the 911 system outages but let the counties address the problem because the agency doesn’t generally provide assistance unless asked.

The region Fenske directs includes Marquette County.

The outage follows several other recent cases of utility and service-line damage by work crews. Last week, authorities evacuated homes after gas leaks in Stoughton and Sun Prairie.

Those incidents came about a month after a July 10 gas explosion rocked downtown Sun Prairie, killing volunteer firefighter Capt. Cory Barr and leveling several buildings. Contractors had punctured a gas main, leading to the explosion.

Jonathan Stefonek of the Portage Daily Register contributed to this report.

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