What Happens When Phone Lines are Destroyed in Storms? We Need a Good Answer.

Verizon’s post-hurricane Sandy Voice Link experiment should be the cautionary tale that spurs the FCC into action, not the blueprint for carriers to follow should a similar situation arise in the future.


Today, Public Knowledge, along with 18 other public interest groups, asked the FCC to affirmatively create post-disaster communications policy. PK believes that all Americans should have access to basic telephone services, regardless of location. Since the invention of the telephone, federal regulations have protected and promoted that access, as well as competition in the communications industry.

Unless the FCC establishes appropriate responses for situations in which infrastructure is damaged and carriers do not wish to rebuild, policy makers will continue to improvise, carriers will continue to evade their regulatory obligations, and consumers will continue to be harmed.

Everyone will benefit from guidance from the FCC. Carriers can engage in recovery, following a disaster, with confidence that their actions are approved by the commission. Communities need information about how their phone service, long taken for granted, could change dramatically if a natural disaster damages infrastructure.

Voice Link might have been an acceptable temporary substitute during the time frame immediately after Sandy, when restoring connectivity at all was the priority. But months later, residents of Fire Island still have no way to receive collect calls, use calling cards, process credit card payments, or transfer data. They cannot be sure that their 911 calls will go through. Voice Link does not work with life alert or alarm systems, and unlike the service it claims to replace, it is powered by batteries, which the consumer is tasked with maintaining.

PK doesn’t think that events on Fire Island should set the precedent for natural disaster recovery going forward. Earlier this week, we asked the FCC to take Verizon’s application to retire its copper phone service off of the streamlined fast-track to approval.

If the FCC doesn’t implement a framework for post-disaster infrastructure recovery, future disasters could see other carriers following suit, to the detriment of the public. This would be a step backward in terms of access and quality of service, at a time when technology is improving.

What you can do: Make your voice heard by signing a letter to the FCC by Sunday, July 28th.  

Original image by Flickr user kakela.

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