AT&T Begins Battery Replacement Program After Reports of Fires

January 20, 2008 by Jeff Shepard

AT&T has revealed that it will be replacing thousands of lithium batteries that could be safety hazards. The announcement comes in the wake of four equipment fires in the last two years, the most recent being a Christmas Day 2007 explosion in Wisconsin. The fires occurred in equipment cabinets providing AT&T’s U-verse video service. U-verse is a new video service, enclosed in large metal equipment cabinets, offering more than 300 TV and music channels, plus high-speed Internet access.

Media reports refer to the fires in troubling terms, describing the doors of the metal cabinets being "blown off" in explosions, and destruction to buildings and property nearby the homes in which the "blasts" occurred.

AT&T began investigating the incidents soon after the first occurred in Texas in October of 2006. The company states that it is going to replace approximately 17,000 batteries that are used in the cabinets. The questionable batteries were all manufactured by Avestor, a Canadian company which filed for bankruptcy in late 2006 and ceased operations soon thereafter. AT&T stopped using the Avestor batteries during the first quarter of 2007 and announced a new battery supplier in July 2007.

The company has declined to reveal the cost of the replacement process, although some experts said it might cost several thousand dollars per unit, including the cost of the batteries, labor and any changes that have to be made to the cabinets. The company doesn’t think that the U-verse service will be significantly interrupted because of the replacement program, which involves replacing the Avestor batteries with two types of non-lithium batteries from other manufacturers.

"We are in the process of getting it started now. All I can say is that we are doing it as quickly as we can," AT&T spokesman Rick Fox said. "Avestor is out of business, so this is something that we have decided to do on our own, We want to make sure that we are protecting the safety of our customers, our employees and the communities we serve."