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Hurricane Sandy Leaves Behind Spotty Cell Phone, Internet Connections

U.S. and local telecom networks, including RCN, AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint, are experiencing widespread disruptions in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

The editor of Nazareth Patch has no Hurricane Sandy war stories. The roof is intact, the shingles are in place, the branches are right where they're supposed to be, and the power -- although it flickered like a strobe light -- refused to give way.

I was prepared to give my victory speech. But then Sandy delivered a cheap shot: both of my AT&T-powered cell phones are useless.

Well played, Sandy. Well played.

I tried taking to the Internet to find out why I had lost the ability to make and receive phone calls -- and why I could only send text messages if I contorted my body juuuuust right. But Sandy had also stolen my wireless Internet.

Hmph.

Luckily, my Verizon Wireless Aircard saved the day. Ha!

After a simple Google search, I soon learned that the disruption in telecommunications services expands beyond RCN and AT&T. Customers of Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile are also affected, according to a Reuters report.

Verizon Wireless customers began experiencing "sporadic network congestion due to the extremely high calling volumes" on Sunday as Hurricane Sandy set sights on the U.S., according to a press release.

Sandy’s record-setting storm surge resulted in flooding at several key Verizon facilities in Lower Manhattan, Queens and Long Island, interrupting commercial power and rendering backup power systems at these sites inoperable, the press release adds.

In an official response to TechCrunch, Verizon said:

Customers that are served by these central offices [in New York] will experience a loss of all services including FiOS (voice, internet, video), high speed internet, and telephone services. Some customers may experience intermittent busy signals while attempting to dial 311 service for non-emergency calls. Verizon engineers continue to assess the damage at these locations and we will post updates as additional information is available.

According to Nicola Palmer, vice president-network and chief technical officer for Verizon Wireless, "the majority of the problems are ‘out-of-service’ sites resulting from multiple factors, including telecommunications provider service disruption, power outages and flooding in low-lying areas such as the tip of Lower Manhattan."

Palmer said network teams are working to restore service, but have been hindered by flooding and other safety concerns.

AT&T posted a video on YouTube to explain how it uses portable generators to set up mobile deployment sites prior to a storm. After the storm passes, AT&T crews relocate the portable generators to the areas in need.

Like the thousands of Lehigh Valley residents curious to know when power will be restored, AT&T gave TechCrunch an offical response that left me still wondering when my smartphone would return to "smart" status:

As we continue to closely monitor our wireline and wireless networks for service disruptions, we are experiencing some issues in areas heavily impacted by the storm. We are in the initial stages of performing an on-the-ground assessment of our network for damage and crews will be working around the clock to restore service. We are deploying personnel and equipment as soon as it is safe to do so.

For T-Mobile customers, restoration work continues in the harder hit areas of Lower Manhattan, Staten Island, Long Island, coastal and northern New Jersey, Connecticut and portions of Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia.

According to a press release, "T-Mobile rapid response engineering teams have staged equipment throughout the areas most severely impacted and continue to make assessments regarding how quickly we may be able to begin restoration, and where it is needed most."

In its official response to TechCrunch, Sprint said its service disruptions "are due to loss of commercial power, flooding, loss of cell site backhaul connections, site access and damaging debris."

Sprint's statement continued, "Given the on-going weather conditions, we cannot provide a specific number of impacted customers, but we ask that they remain patient at this time and exercise caution in the aftermath of the recent events."

In local telecom news, RCN said its customers in New York City and eastern Pennsylvania are experiencing massive outages, mostly due to commercial power being out. According to national emergency processes, RCN explains on its website, it must wait until commercial power crews complete their work before it can start restoration.

The restoration of some power Monday in the Lehigh Valley allowed RCN crews to call customers and check for service verification. RCN crews are also on night watch and morning routes for service restoration work.

For updates, visit www.rcn.com/stormwatch.

If you are part of a widespread outage, RCN's status monitoring system alerts the company. There is no need to call RCN unless the cable line running to your home is damaged or down. If it is, call RCN at 1-800-746-4726 or 610-419-2646.

Service Electric customers can check on their outage status by visiting www.sectv.com/LV, logging into "My Account" and clicking "My Outage Status." This service is available via smartphones and other mobile devices.

Comcast opened its Xfinity WiFi hotspots in Greater Philadelphia and New Jersey to anyone who needs them -- including non-Comcast customers. Comcast owns and operates thousands of WiFi hotspots in the Philadelphia region and in New Jersey that are typically only available to its customers.

For a searchable map of Xfinity WiFi hotspots, which are located both indoors and outdoors in malls, shopping districts, parks, train platforms and other areas, visit www.xfinity.com/wifi.

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