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Call for improved cell phone service during emergencies
Armed with new data showing cell phones will overtake traditional land
lines as most-used means of communication in New York within next two
years, US Senator Charles E. Schumer has revealed new information
showing that the comprehensive failure of New York's cell phone
service during the recent blackout was far worse than previously
thought. Not only couldn't New Yorkers get their mobile phones to
work, but only one cell phone provider had a working system in place
to give police and firefighters first-in-line priority to make cell
Schumer has proposed requiring every cell phone provider give first
priority to emergency personnel and urged the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) to improve service for all cell phone users during
"Last week's blackout was a cell phone disaster,"Schumer said. "The
one time you really can't afford to be without a working cell phone is
when there is a major emergency, but that's exactly when New Yorkers'
mobile phones went dead in their hands. Even worse, the systems that
are supposed to put cops and firefighters at the head of the line for
cell phone service just aren't there at most companies, leaving the
heroes who need cell phone service most no better off than the rest of
us. Cell phones failed us on 9/11, they failed last week, and unless
we make changes soon they'll fail us again next time."
Schumer found this week that T-Mobile is the only cell phone provider
with a working plan in place to give emergency providers first
priority to place cell phone calls during emergencies.
While traditional "land-line" phones continued to work after most of
New York lost power last week, cell phone systems could not handle the
increased numbers of calls – Verizon Wireless reported four times the
ordinary call volume and Sprint PCS reported three times the normal
call volume. In addition, cell phone service got worse, not better, as
the blackout continued, when thousands of cell phone towers and
transmitters lost power because their battery backups only lasted from
two to six hours. Cell phone companies didn't have enough generators
to recharge the batteries and found that recharging was an hours-long
process for each of the thousands of cell phone transmitters in New
There are over 10.5 million cell phone subscribers in the New York
City area, a number which is projected to grow to 12.4 million by 2006
– an increase of 15%. But while the number of cell phone users is
expected to increase 15% in the next three years, the number of
minutes of cell phone calls made in New York is projected to increase
37%, from 66.7 billion this year to 106.2 billion in 2006, based on
national data from The Yankee Group. Over the same period, the
projected number of traditional minutes of land line calls made in New
York is projected to decrease 8.4% in New York, from 106.2 billion to
this year to only 98.0 billion in 2003.
Schumer said that while cell phone calls will surpass land line calls
in New York within two years, cell phone networks already can't handle
high call volumes after a major disaster. Almost all cellular networks
can only handle 25 to 30% of their customers making a phone call at
any one time, and the FCC does not currently put specific requirements
on network quality or capacity.
Even worse, most police, firefighters, and first responders do not get
priority for their cell phone calls after disasters because only one
cell phone provider in New York has implemented the plan to do this
that the Federal government put in place almost two years ago.
After the events of September 11, 2001, when it was nearly impossible
to get a cell phone signal in New York City, the White House's
National Security Council ordered the creation of a nationwide
Wireless Priority Service to give emergency responders and key
government officials first access to cellular phone systems. The
Wireless Priority Service is administered by the US National
Communications System, which became part of the US Department of
Homeland Security earlier this year. Once a cellular phone has been
subscribed to the Wireless Priority Service, users dial a special code
and immediately go to the head of the line for an open cellular
channel. Wireless Priority Service calls do not pre-empt ordinary cell
calls already in progress, but using Wireless Priority Service greatly
increases the likelihood emergency personnel will be able to make cell
phone calls during periods of high cell phone congestion.
After last week's blackouts, Schumer discovered that only one mobile
phone company – T-Mobile – offers Wireless Priority Service in New
York. Schumer noted that current FCC regulations make participating in
the Wireless Priority Service optional – not required – and the
wireless companies that provide the overwhelming majority of cell
phones in New York do not participate in the program.
In an effort to address these shortcomings, Schumer has written to the
Chairman of the FCC and urged him to adopt a Cell Phone Disaster
Preparedness Plan to ensure priority calls go through first, systems
can handle more calls immediately after disaster strikes, and
transmitters don't go dead after a few hours without electricity.
Schumer noted that the costs of Wireless Priority Service calls are
relatively low for local law enforcement organizations – a US$10
one-time activation fee per phone, a US$4.50 per month service fee,
and US$0.75 per minute for Wireless Priority Service calls. (Wireless
Priority Service minutes are not charged against the basic service
minutes.) Regular cell phone subscribers currently do not help pay for
Wireless Priority Service.
"Over the years, traditional telephone land lines and most other
utilities have developed so-called 'redundancies' – if one power
system fails, there is a backup to keep people safe. The wireless
industry just isn't there yet, and it needs to catch up quick. The
fact that only one cell phone company in New York can give cops and
firefighters the call priority we all need them to have shows how far
this industry still has to go," Schumer said.
It would've been nice if you had at least credited the news article
that you quoted in its entirety!
The article is in it's entirety. At least from whence it was gleaned.
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