Hurricane Sandy Disrupts Telecommunications Networks in Northeast

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By Paul Barbagallo  

Surging storm waters and downed trees and power lines from Hurricane Sandy cut off telephone and cable service to more than 1 million customers in the New York City metropolitan area, and thousands more throughout the northeastern United States.

Widespread power outages also resulted in spotty or lost connections for mobile phones.

Among telecom carriers, Verizon Communications Inc., a major provider of landline phone, cable, and internet services in the New York City metro area, appears to have suffered the worst damage in the aftermath of the super-storm. The company early Oct. 30 reported flooding of “critical” central switching offices in Lower Manhattan, Queens, and Long Island, “causing power failures and rendering back-up power systems at these sites inoperable.”

A spokesman for Verizon Communications told BNA that, as of the afternoon of Oct. 30, the situation “remained the same.”

He could not specify how many customers in the region were affected by the flooded central offices or when services might be restored, as work crews were still assessing the situation.

The spokesman said Verizon was having difficulty reaching some areas of the New York City metro area and New Jersey to properly assess damage. The company expected to have more information available later in the day on Oct. 30, he said.

Similarly, a Verizon Wireless spokesman told BNA that the company, as of Oct. 30, was “assessing the wireless situation.” Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon and Vodafone Group Plc.

AT&T Inc. also said it is experiencing problems with its wireless and wireline networks in areas hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.

As of Oct. 30, the company was still in the “initial stages of performing an on-the-ground assessment” of its network for damage, AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said in an emailed statement.

“We are deploying personnel and equipment as soon as it is safe to do so,” said Siegel.

A spokeswoman for Sprint Nextel Corp. told BNA in an email that its customers in Connecticut, New England, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. also may be experiencing service problems.

The spokeswoman said these impacts are due to a loss of power, flooding, loss of cell-site backhaul connections, lack of site access and damaging debris.

“Weather and safety conditions are still dire in some areas, but our technicians are assessing the damage and servicing sites as they become known to us, and as the areas are deemed safe to enter,” she said. “Given the on-going weather conditions, we cannot provide a specific number of impacted customers, but we ask that they remain patient at this time and exercise caution in the aftermath of the recent events.”

Likewise, T-Mobile USA Inc. suggested that many of its customers could be without service, but was “moving as quickly as possible” to assess the situation.

As for cable operators in the New York region, Cablevision Systems Corp. and Time Warner Cable Inc. said many of their customers have been left without service by power outages. Neither company, however, reported damage to their physical infrastructure as of Oct. 30.

Based on initial outage reports to the New York Public Service Commission (PSC), a total of 1.65 million cable customers were without service as of 10 a.m. Oct. 30 in metropolitan New York, Long Island, and the lower Hudson River valley. About 65,000 customers lacked cable service in Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, among other areas affected by the storm, the N.Y. PSC said.

Official outage numbers could not be obtained from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities late Oct. 30.

FCC Closely Monitoring Network Outages

During a conference call with reporters Oct. 30, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said communications network outages “could get worse before they get better,” particularly for mobile service.

Based on initial reports to the FCC, roughly 25 percent of cell sites in 158 counties affected by Hurricane Sandy are currently out of service. Of those still in service, “many” are operating on back-up power, Genachowski said.

“In some areas, that number of sites [out of service] is larger; in some areas that number is smaller,” Genachowski said.

He added that a “very small number” of “911” call centers are down and being rerouted to other call centers.

Over the next few days, Genachowski said, the FCC will continue to work closely with FEMA and telecommunications providers to assess the impact of Hurricane Sandy and expedite response where necessary, Genachowski said.


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