East Coast wireless service, infrastructure slowly recover from Sandy

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Wireless communications carriers and infrastructure all along the East Coast are still recovering from the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Sandy, which slammed into the area earlier this week. The New Jersey shore and New York City were particularly hard hit.

The Federal Communications Commission is reporting that the number of cell site outages due to Hurricane Sandy has dropped from one-quarter of sites to 19 percent of sites as of Thursday.

This figure includes cases where cell sites are operational but inoperable because of outages in other parts of the communications infrastructure, the agency explained.

AT&T (NYSE: T) and T-Mobile announced that they are jointly allowing roaming over both of their wireless networks in the areas hit hardest by the hurricane.

In addition, AT&T and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) said they are providing portable mobile phone charging stations in the areas hardest hit by the hurricane. Verizon said it has erected a temporary cell tower in Jersey City to support communications by major financial organizations in northern New Jersey. AT&T has agreed to set up wireless hot spots in the city using satellite trucks.

Sprint (NYSE: S) said on Thursday that 20 percent of its network in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania is not operating. "Challenges remain in obtaining commercial power, backhaul connections and gaining safe access to cell sites," the carrier said.

For cable services, outages have declined to between 12 percent and 14 percent from initial outages estimates of 25 percent.

"Our latest data indicate that calls throughout the affected area can be received at 9-1-1 call centers, though in limited cases calls are being re-routed to another center or do not contain location information. We have reached out to every affected 911 center and the relevant state authorities, and we are talking to communications providers about what can be done to address this," said David Turetsky, chief of the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, on Thursday.

The FCC is gathering information about outages through the Disaster Information Reporting System, a voluntary web-based system for communications providers.

The agency is requesting information from providers in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia and West Virginia.

Turetsky explained that FCC field agents have been working with others in New York City to get fuel to a switching center that serves many communications providers.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski added that the "supply of fuel to generators is essential to keep communications service up and running, and we're working with federal, state, and local authorities to speed fuel delivery. This is a priority because our commercial communications networks are essential to emergency response and recovery efforts, as well as to commercial activities and connecting with family."

For additional telecom news related to Hurricane Sandy, see FierceCable's special coverage section.

For more:
- see the FCC release
- read the statement on the AT&T, T-Mobile roaming accord

Related Articles:
Special Coverage: Hurricane Sandy's aftermath
Sandy takes toll on data centers