Cell-site outages fall to 19 percent in area hit by Sandy, FCC says

Portable cells and emergency generators are still in place to keep communications alive

About 19 percent of cell sites in the area hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy were still out of service on Thursday morning as recovery was slowed by other network failures and power shortages, according to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

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By 10 a.m. Eastern on Thursday, the outages had declined from about 22 percent of all cell sites in the region a day earlier, the FCC said in a statement on Thursday afternoon. That was an average across the area most affected by the storm, stretching across parts of 10 states. In addition, cable TV and cable Internet outages had been reduced to about 12 percent to 14 percent, the agency said.

"Overall, we're seeing both continued improvement in communications networks and also that much work remains to be done to restore service fully," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in the statement. As a key part of the recovery effort, the agency is working with federal, state and local authorities to help get fuel to generators, he said.

There was steady improvement in the wired and wireless communications networks across the storm area, but restoration of service in the areas hardest hit, such as New York and New Jersey, has been more difficult, said David Turetsky, head of the FCC's Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau. Some sites that could otherwise have come back online were held back by failures elsewhere in the communications infrastructure, he said.

The FCC said its Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) remained active and the agency was still collecting data from carriers about the effects of the storm.

Emergency 911 calls are being received throughout the storm-affected area, though in some cases they are being re-routed to other 911 centers or don't contain location information, the FCC said.

On Thursday, the major wired and wireless carriers continued to bring facilities back up and deployed portable cell sites, some of which offered free device charging for people who had lost power.

T-Mobile USA reported that its network had been 85 percent restored in New York City and 80 percent restored on Staten Island. Verizon Communications said it had restored backup power to four critical facilities in lower Manhattan and one on Long Island that had suffered from flooding on Monday night. Those included the company's Manhattan headquarters.

Though Sandy had been downgraded from hurricane status before it reached land on Monday, it devastated a wide swath of the East Coast from North Carolina to Canada, stretching west to Michigan. The worst damage was in New York City and northern New Jersey.

At a press conference on Thursday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said AT&T was deploying portable cell sites near emergency assistance centers that have been set up around the city to help residents and distribute food. The trucks use satellite to connect to the rest of AT&T's network and the Internet. Visitors can charge their mobile devices at the portable cells.

Verizon Wireless has also deployed cell sites on wheels where needed throughout the Northeast. The company has set up Wireless Emergency Communications Centers (WECCs) at Monmouth University in New Jersey and at two sites in Toms River, New Jersey, plus "stores on wheels" in Sea Girt and Howell, New Jersey. It's offering device charging and free domestic calls to local residents at the WECCs and all its open store locations.

Meanwhile, Verizon Enterprise Solutions said cloud and data centers operated by Verizon and Verizon Terremark have remained operational and their services were unaffected.

Late on Thursday, Sprint Nextel said its network had been fully restored in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Maine, Vermont, Ohio and Kentucky. After "significant progress," the network was more than 90 percent operational in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

But service was harder to come by in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, where the network was only 80 percent restored -- only 75 percent in New York City.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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