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Posts Tagged ‘Gerry Smith

 Wireless Industry Resisted Calls: Why not Backing Up Cell Towers Before Sandy Storm?

 Is it a real public-safety issue? When you lose your landline in a storm, is the last way you can communicate is with your cell phone? Would you feel stranded as the cell tower goes out? 

Do you think that the reliability of wireless service in a disaster has become increasingly critical as more Americans ditch their landlines for cell phones?

After Hurricane Katrina knocked out communications along the Gulf Coast, federal regulators proposed that wireless companies have backup power at all cell towers. Do you think that was a sensible proposal?

Gerry Smith  published in the HuffPost:
 
Wireless Sandy Outages

A local resident charges his cell phones from a generator in the still powerless Chelsea section of Manhattan. Many wireless customers were without service this after Hurricane Sandy disrupted wireless networks.

One key factor helps explain why communities ravaged by Hurricane Sandy could not use cell phones to call for help and communicate with the outside world: mobile telephone companies have for years lobbied to kill rules that would have forced them to maintain backup power at their cell phone towers.

After Hurricane Katrina knocked out communications along the Gulf Coast, federal regulators proposed that wireless companies have backup power at all cell towers.

But the wireless industry sued to block the requirement, saying it would be a financial burden and regulators didn’t have authority to impose it. An appeals court later sided with the industry.

This week, as Sandy dealt a severe blow to the nation’s most populous region, about one in four cell towers failed, leaving thousands of customers unable to make cell phone calls for days.

The outages exposed weaknesses in wireless communications during disasters and renewed questions of whether carriers should be required to make their networks more resilient.

“The biggest issue is they have not wanted to invest the money in hardening their networks sufficiently against a catastrophic event. It’s basically left up to the industry to decide whether to put plans in place,” said Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge, a public interest group.

To prepare for hurricanes, wireless carriers say they adhere to “voluntary, industry-based best practices,” such as using portable cell towers on wheels, known as COWS, as temporary towers in areas without service. AT&T and T-Mobile allowed their customers this week to use each other’s networks in New York and New Jersey until their networks were fully restored.

But there are almost no rules on how wireless companies should respond to severe weather. While they work closely with federal agencies during storms, they are not required to file detailed emergency plans with them beforehand.

The reliability of wireless service in a disaster has become increasingly critical as more Americans ditch their landlines for cell phones. The percentage of cell phone-only households has risen from 18 percent in 2008 to 34 percent today, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Last year, the Federal Communications Comission sought public comments on how wireless providers should strengthen their systems, citing “the inadequacy of backup power” as a key reason for wireless failures during emergencies.

In comments filed with the FCC, the CTIA, which represents the wireless industry, urged regulators not to adopt regulations requiring back-up power at cell towers. Such requirements “would unnecessarily burden wireless carriers and potentially undermine the investments and network planning that have made their networks so successful.”

Most cell towers — but not all — have backup battery power, ranging from several hours to a few days, according to Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for the CTIA. After Hurricane Sandy, the carriers relied on generators to keep the cell sites running, but expressed concern about fuel shortages.

Last fall, Connecticut State Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-Goshen), proposed a bill that would have required all cell towers in his state to be equipped with backup generators. He introduced the bill after a snowstorm knocked out power at towers near his home, leaving his cell phone useless.

“It’s a real public-safety issue,” Roraback said in an interview. “When you lose your landline in a storm, the last way you have to communicate is with your cell phone. When the cell tower goes out, you’re left with no means of communication. You’re stranded.”

The industry opposed the bill. It was later modified to require state regulators to conduct a study on how to ensure cell coverage during severe storms.

During hurricanes, wireless networks depend on more than just cell towers. They also rely on fiber or copper wires — known as “backhaul service” — and switching centers to transmit calls between towers.

This week, Verizon said that one of its key switching centers in lower Manhattan flooded, and its copper wires were damaged as well. Other wireless carriers also said their networks can become overloaded by sudden spikes in usage during emergencies.

As power returned to many areas over the weekend, wireless carriers reported that more than 95 percent of their cell towers in areas affected by the storm were working. But they remained vague about what areas still lacked cell service.

And on Sunday, some customers were still begging for connectivity, six days after the storm.

“Please send a mobile cell tower and power linkup to Long Beach, NY,” one Twitter user wrote Sunday. “It’s been decimated by Sandy. No AT&T service there, lots of need.”

For wireless customers, the question going forward is whether they can count on the industry to prevent such outages in the next hurricane, or whether regulators should create new rules to ensure that they do, Feld said.

“Are we just going to leave it to the industry that in another one of these crises they’ll invent this stuff from scratch, or do we want to tell regulators they need to actually put some standards in place?” Feld said.

Convention Without Walls: ‘Digital Divide’ Overlooked by the live-streaming technology?

With a steady stream of blog posts, tweets, Facebook posts and YouTube videos, even the Republican party convention is live-streaming on YouTube.

The presidential campaigns have increasingly embraced the web as a way to speak directly to voters.

The Republican National Convention in Tampa, which is calling itself the “Convention Without Walls,” is releasing a mobile app and encouraging Facebook users to share their photos and videos.

The upcoming Democratic National Convention in Charlotte has planned similar digital outreach.

Yet, millions of Americans won’t be able to participate. They are blocked from experiencing much of the online world:  Simply, they don’t have access to high-speed Internet.

About one-third of Americans (100 million people) do not subscribe to broadband. This so-called “digital divide” will likely receive little, if any attention during the political conventions.

Gerry Smith in the HuffPost wrote:

“Bridging the technology gap fits squarely within the candidates’ platforms for reducing unemployment, increasing access to health care and education, and helping the country compete in a globalized economy, experts say.

Almost every aspect of today’s society — from looking for jobs to accessing online medicine and classrooms — now requires a broadband connection, and those without access are quickly being left behind.

“I feel like I’m at a disadvantage,” said James Brunswick, a 51-year-old Philadelphia resident who is looking for a job but can’t afford a computer.

There are different reasons why Americans are disconnected.

1. About 19 million people, mostly in rural areas, don’t have high-speed Internet because phone and cable companies don’t provide service to their location. I

2. Many low-income Americans can’t afford broadband subscriptions.

3. About 40% of adults with household incomes less than $20,000 have broadband at home, compared to 93 percent with household incomes greater than $75,000, according to the F.C.C.

4. A growing number of people who can’t afford computers or Internet service are turning to smartphones as a more affordable way to get online.

Experts warn that mobile devices — with their small screens, data caps and slower speeds — are no substitute for a computer with a high-speed connection.

To help more people join the digital age, the Obama administration set aside $7.2 billion to deploy high-speed Internet to unserved and low-income areas. The Federal Communications Commission has overhauled its Lifeline program to provide discounted Internet service to families in need and has partnered with major cable providers to supply $10 Internet access to households with a child enrolled in the national school lunch program.

Again, experts say more must be done.

A few of the experts argue the next administration needs to regulate broadband providers to promote competition, which would give consumers more choices and lower prices for broadband service.

“We can throw subsidies at the problem all day, but it’s not going to close the digital divide unless we have a robust, competitive market that will lead to lower prices and more attractive services,” said Derek Turner, research director at the public-interest group Free Press.

There are other reasons why people don’t get online.

1. Some are not comfortable with the Internet, while others think the web is a waste of their time, surveys show.

2. And while the price of computers is falling, many low-income Americans still can’t afford them and must rely on public libraries to get online — a digital safety net that is starting to fray.

3. More than half of libraries say their Internet connections are not fast enough, and libraries nationwide are facing budget cuts that have forced them to close on weekends and evenings, according to the American Library Association.

“We are suffering from the perfect storm,” said Emily Sheketoff, the executive director of the American Library Association’s Washington office.

About 80% of schools and libraries receiving federal funding for Internet service say their connections “do not fully meet their needs,” according to an FCC report issued last week.

Stephanie Thomas is a history and government teacher at Broad Street High School in Shelby, Miss., a rural town of 2,000 people where nearly half of families live in poverty.

Thomas often wants to show her students online videos or conduct interactive lessons, but the school’s limited bandwidth makes that impossible.

“We have the Internet but it can be extremely slow,” Thomas said. “There are times where I’ve wanted to show YouTube videos and I spend half of the class period waiting for it to load.”

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan, which was released in 2010, offers a blueprint for helping more people join the digital age.

The plan suggests:

1. That the commission provide wireless spectrum to companies on the condition that they offer free or low-cost broadband service to low-income customers.

2. It recommends Congress provide more funding to teach low-income Americans how to use the Internet and help people with disabilities and Native Americans, who have especially low rates of broadband adoption, gain access to the web.

Turner said there is another reason why both presidential candidates should be concerned about the millions of Americans who are not online: They need their votes, and the Internet has become an increasingly popular platform for candidates to reach voters and voters to learn more about them.

“The Internet is rapidly becoming an indispensable tool for democratic participation,” Turner said. “And we need to be concerned that there is a social cost to those who can’t participate in that conversation.”

It is about time the old effective method of door-to-door connections be relaunched: When will the voters get to meet the candidate coordinators and relay their concerns face to face?


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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