FCC wants to make carriers report cell outages in disasters

A proposed rule would require mobile operators to say what percentage of their sites are operational

Mobile operators would have to tell the public what percentage of their cell sites were working during and after major disasters if the FCC adopts a rule it is proposing in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

The proposed rule, announced Thursday and expected to be open for comment within days, is intended to give consumers a way to compare wireless performance in emergencies, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said. The agency also believes it could encourage competition to improve network reliability.

In a press release, the FCC cited Hurricane Sandy, which devastated large areas of the Northeastern U.S. almost a year ago and knocked out cellular service in some areas for days. The storm shut down about 25 percent of all cell sites in the region, and about 50 percent in the worst-hit counties, the agency said. Not all networks were affected equally, and carriers' operational choices and practices accounted for much of the difference, according to the FCC. The agency held a series of field hearings on communications services after the storm.

Mobile service is critical during and after emergencies, the agency said, citing information that a majority of emergency 911 calls are now made over cellphones.

Each carrier would have to make daily reports during and after emergencies, for public disclosure, saying what percentage of its cell sites in each county were operational. Operators already submit availability data as part of larger daily reports to the government, but those reports are voluntary and don't have to be released to the public. Carriers did give daily, general updates to media on their recovery from Sandy, and the FCC used information from operators to provide overall estimates of cell availability.

The new reporting requirements would kick in when the FCC implements its Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS), which is used in very large disasters and not in every case where a federal disaster is declared, according to the FCC.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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Tags telecommunicationCarriersregulationU.S. Federal Communications Commissionmobilegovernment

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Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
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