Cellphone Networks Resist Hurricane-Proofing Laws
Since Hurricane Katrina, U.S. regulators and network carriers have debated whether carriers need laws requiring carriers to prepare for disasters. One in four people living in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy didn't have cellphone connections Oct. 30.
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As a large fraction of the U.S. East Coast continues without cellphone and even landline phone service, the Wall Street Journal reported on the ongoing debate between federal regulators and wireless providers about preparing cell networks for disasters.
On Oct. 30, one in four people living in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy didn't have cellphone and cable service, such as bundled landline phone, cable TV and Internet service, the Federal Communications Commission reported. On Oct. 31, the numbers had improved to one in five for cell service and one in seven for cable service.
Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, U.S. regulators have tried to pass laws for all wireless providers, requiring the providers to have backup batteries and other emergency provisions in place. Providers say they don't need such rules because it's in their best interest to provide reliable service, the Wall Street Journal reported. In general, the providers have prevailed, the newspaper said.
When the Federal Communications Commission proposed carriers study using blimps and unmanned drones to carry cell signals after a disaster, the industry said aircraft would cause interference.
When the commission tried to mandate backup batteries for all carrier facilities, the carriers sued. Eventually, the commission stopped pushing for the passage of the law.
Carriers say many facilities already have backup batteries and that batteries wouldn't have helped much during Hurricane Sandy because they only last eight hours, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Carriers have worked on a few projects to help with the cell service troubles after Sandy. AT&T and T-Mobile are allowing Sandy-affected customers to use both networks. AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson has also promised to bring in trucks that will have charging stations and Wi-Fi.
"We will do things to learn from this event, to make more investment, to do what we need to do in order to make this more resilient for the next thing that happens," Sprint's senior vice president for networks, Bob Azzi, told the Wall Street Journal.
At the same time, Azzi said, "There might be limits to what you can really do, ultimately" in New York because of the city's density and infrastructure.
Meanwhile, some are worried about the vulnerability of cell networks to disasters. Many people now own only cellphones, and not landline phones. "We're pulling up the safety net behind us, and we don't have a new safety net in case something goes wrong," Harold Feld, legal director for the consumer rights group Public Knowledge, told the Wall Street Journal.
Source: Wall Street Journal