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Lead Cables in Telecom Networks: Investigations, Cleanup Cost Estimates, News Timeline and Updates

January 11, 2024 by Joe Panettieri

Toxic lead-wrapped cables from the telecom industry have triggered questions from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Here is a timeline tracing the lead cable concerns and potentially associated telecom companies -- such as AT&T, Verizon, Frontier Communications, Lumen Technologies, Telephone and Data Systems (TDS) and more.

Note: This story is updated regularly. Check back for continued timeline updates. Read from the bottom up for the overall chronology of events.

Lead Cables and Telecom Investigations: What's Next?

January 11, 2024: The Environmental Protection Agency in December 2023 sent letters requesting meetings with AT&T and Verizon to discuss lead-sheathed phone cables, The Wall Street Journal reported. In a blank response the USTelecom industry group told the journal: “Our industry has been engaging with the EPA and our companies look forward to meeting with the EPA to discuss agency and industry testing results. We will continue to follow the science, which has not identified that lead-sheathed telecom cables are a leading cause of lead exposure or the cause of a public health issue.” 

August 4, 2023: Lead cables represent a single-digit percentage of metallic cabling in Frontier Communications' network, CEO Nick Jeffery told Wall Street analysts during an earnings call.

Lead Cables and Telecom Investigations: Week 4

Tuesday, August 1, 2023 - Lumen Earnings: During a quarterly earnings call, Lumen CFO Chris Stansbury had this to say about the lead cable situation.

Lead Cables and Telecom Investigations: Week 3

Friday, July 28, 2023 - House Hearings on Telecom Lead Cables?: A House lawmaker, Rep. Pat Ryan of New York, requested a congressional hearing about lead-sheathed cables that telecom companies have left behind across the U.S., The Wall Street Journal reported. In a letter addressed to the chairs of the House Energy and Commerce and the House Transportation and Infrastructure committees, Ryan asked that the chief executives of major telecom companies answer questions about, among other things, the location of lead cables and plans for mitigating any risk, the report said.

Wednesday July 26, 2023: Multiple Updates...

Tuesday, July 25, 2023: Multiple updates...

Hans Vestberg, CEO, Verizon
  • Verizon Earnings: How much lead cable does Verizon's network contain & what are the potential health risks & cleanup costs? Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg & CFO Tony Skiadas offered these lead cable perspectives during Verizon's earnings call.
  • Washington Inquiry: Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) requested that USTelecom -- a telecom association -- respond to the following questions by July 25, 2023:
    • Do the companies know the locations and mileage of lead-sheathed cables that they own or for which are responsible — whether aerial, underwater, or underground? Are there maps of the locations? If not, what plans do the companies have to identify the location of the cables?
    • Why have the companies that knew about the cables — and the potential exposure risks they pose — failed to monitor them or act?
    • What plans do the companies have to address the environmental and public health issues posed by the cables? Specifically, will the companies commit to:
      • Testing for soil, water, and other contamination caused by the cables?
      • Remediating any contamin?
      • Warning communities of the potential hazards the cables pose?
      • Guaranteeing medical treatment and compensation to anyone harmed by lead poisoning caused by the cables?

Lead Cables and Telecom Investigations: Week 2

Thursday, July 20, 2023: Multiple updates...

New York Governor Kathy Hochul
John Stankey, CEO, AT&T

Tuesday, July 18, 2023: Less than 10% of AT&T's nationwide copper-wire telecom network has lead-clad cables, and the company disagrees with The Wall Street Journal's reporting on the matter, according to an AT&T court filing plus an internal email from CEO John Stankey to employees.

Monday, July 17, 2023: Multiple Updates...

  • Estimated Exposure: TDS Telecommunications has located approximately 10 miles of lead-covered cables in its network, the company disclosed. TDS Telecom is "identifying next steps to address the very limited amount of lead cabling it estimates is in its network. TDS Telecom strives to follow all applicable local, state, and federal laws where it provides service," the company said.
  • Telecom stock downgrade: Citi analyst Michael Rollins cut shares in AT&T (NYSE: $T), Frontier Communications (NASDAQ: $FYBR) and Telephone and Data Systems (NYSE: $TDS) to neutral/high risk amid concerns about that their copper networks may contain significant amounts of toxic lead sheathing. Source: SeekingAlpha.
  • 30-Year low: AT&T shares fell nearly 7% to hit their lowest level in 30 years amid concerns that the telecom giant left toxic lead cables buried across the U.S. Source: Reuters.

Lead Cables and Telecom Investigations: Week 1

Friday, July 14, 2023: Multiple updates...

  • Telecom stock downgrade: JPMorgan downgraded AT&T shares, citing worries over its wireless and broadband segments -- and some concerns about potential lead sheathing business risks. AT&T likely has the largest exposure to the lead issue, given that its local exchange carrier business covers roughly 40% of the homes in the U.S. and the presence of its long haul network, JPMorgan said. Source: SeekingAlpha.
  • Lead Cable cleanup costs: It could cost $59 billion to remove the lead cables left behind by phone companies. Source: The Wall Street Journal.
Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2023: Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate, and Nuclear Safety and the author of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, wrote to the United States Telecom Association (USTelecom) and demanded answers to questions raised by a Wall Street Journal investigation.

Sunday, July 9, 2023:

  • The breaking story emerges: America is wrapped in miles of toxic lead cables, a Wall Street Journal investigation found. Telecom companies laid the lead cables decades ago and thousands were left behind, posing a hidden health hazard today, the report said. The alleged health risks involve roughly 2,000 lead-covered cables from the old Bell System's regional telephone network, the WSJ said.
  • The telecom industry's response: "The U.S. telecommunications industry stands ready to engage constructively on this issue,” according to USTelecom, an association of telecom and broadband service providers.

Note: This story is updated regularly. Check back for continued timeline updates. Read from the bottom up for the overall chronology of events.

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