Hurricane Sandy put one quarter of the wireless cell towers in the Northeast out of commission, according to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who warned that number may increase unless
power is restored in a timely fashion.
Although Genachowski didn’t give a precise number of cell phone towers damaged or deprived of power by Sandy, it is easily in the thousands. In 2010, the FCC estimated the total number of wireless cell towers in the U.S. at 266,623, and a large proportion of these are located in the densely-populated Northeast region.
August 2011, Hurricane Irene disabled about 6,500 cell phone towers.
While it is rare for cell phone towers to actually topple over in a storm, many will have been damaged by flooding in ground-level equipment rooms or windblown debris. This huge repair job means it could be weeks before some towers are restored to service -- and the number of cell towers out of service could actually increase in coming days.
One of the biggest issues facing cell tower operators is loss of power, and cell towers currently relying on backup generators could begin running out of fuel over the next week, Genachowski noted. Given the widespread disruptions to the power grid, which utility providers say could take 10 days or more to repair in places, it’s possible more cell towers will go dark.
Outages were reported in cell service and cable systems beginning Sunday evening and increased as Hurricane Sandy made landfall, battering New Jersey and New York City Monday and Tuesday. Verizon said two key switching centers in Manhattan were severely affected by the storm. The company’s corporate headquarters in Lower Manhattan and offices in Long Island and Queens were also flooded, knocking out backup power at those locations.
AT&T and Sprint also reported service disruptions resulting from power outages and storm
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