AT&T to replace batteries after explosions and fires

NEW YORK (Reuters) - AT&T Inc T.N said on Wednesday it will replace 17,000 batteries mostly used to back up power supply for its U-verse television network after two fires and two explosions in a little over a year.

The company said no one was injured by the incidents and the replacement of the batteries housed in outdoor telecommunications equipment cabinets would not change its spending plans for 2008.

The communications company said the incidents did cause some damage to surrounding property but it did not immediately give details.

Spokesman Michael Coe said the batteries were supplied by now-defunct company Avestor, which filed for bankruptcy in October 2006, around the time AT&T discovered the first incident with the batteries.

AT&T decided to replace the batteries after the last incident, which occurred in December 2007, he said.

“Typically in this situation ... where we have four incidences we would do work with the vendor to diagnose the problem,” Coe said. “We can’t do that in this situation because the company is out of business, which is why we made a decision to replace all these batteries.”

Coe said AT&T stopped installing lithium-metal-polymer batteries from Avestor in the first quarter of 2007.

AT&T continued to use the batteries after the first incident as a third-party investigator said the risk of hazardous failure was as low, if not lower, than for similar batteries used by municipalities and other telephone companies, Coe said.

The biggest U.S. telephone company said its network has about 400,000 back-up batteries used to keep phone services running in the event of a commercial power supply outage.

AT&T will use some batteries based on nickel cadmium and others based on valve-regulated lead acid as replacements. It said replacing the 17,000 batteries would not slow U-verse’s roll-out schedule, and that service for existing customers would not be affected.

The phone company first started offering U-verse in late 2005 to compete with cable companies.

Last year U-verse service suffered an outage after the company loaded new software. It ended the third quarter with about 126,000 customers for the service.

Reporting by Sinead Carew, editing by Mark Porter