Sandy hit all phone carriers - but how hard?

Sandy was the biggest storm to hit the U.S. in decades. The combination hurricane and Nor'easter struck the entire coastline from Virginia to Maine. And along with the flooding, structural damage, fires and power outages, a huge number of people lost telephone service.

According to the FCC, over one fourth of all landline customers Virginia, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts lost service. Moreover, a similar percentage of cell phone towers in 10 states were damaged by the storm.

The cellphone companies assured the news media that many of the towers had backup power, but that couldn't be assessed. The FCC had instituted a rule that cell phone companies had to provide adequate backup batteries, but the companies sued and successfully blocked the rule. In many cases, though, backup power didn't last long.

Although it appears that most telephone service has been restored, no one - except the carriers themselves - know the numbers. According to The Wall Street Journal, "Carnegie Mellon University Prof. Jon Peha, said the problem was that cellphone companies aren't required to report publicly how reliable their networks are, giving them little incentive to spend money on preparing for potential disasters."

Peha told the Journal, "It's possible that if the public knew which wireless companies were more reliable, that market forces -- people shifting to the more reliable network -- would give incentives for everyone to be reliable," Mr. Peha said. "But if the public doesn't know, there are no market incentives."

 

Sandy downed 25 percent of cell masts, says FCC (ZDnet, Oct. 31, 2012)

Sandy knocks out 25% of cell service in its path (CNNMoney, Oct. 31, 2012)

Outages Highlight Worries on Phone Networks (The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 4, 2012)

Hurricane Sandy: Wireless carriers restore most disrupted service (FierceWireless Nov. 5, 2012)