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Telecoms face 'one big mess' in Gulf Coast region

While service has improved in some areas, it remains out in flooded New Orleans

September 1, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Katrina CoverageCellular and other communication services are gradually improving in the Gulf Coast region more than three days after Hurricane Katrina blasted through, but service providers said today they still can't reach equipment in the flooded city of New Orleans to make needed repairs.
Officials at Cingular Wireless LLC, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Corp. and BellSouth Corp. reported separately at noon today that with flooding and power outages in New Orleans, crews can't access cellular sites and switching stations for repairs. Sprint's crews are waiting in Baton Rouge, La., until officials say it's safe to enter New Orleans, a spokesman said.
Telecommunications have improved, however, in places such as Baton Rouge, Mobile, Ala. and Pensacola, Fla., company spokesmen said in separate interviews.
The carriers are all relying on backup generators and in some cases portable generators and cellular transceivers carried on panel trucks. When possible, the carriers are also increasing power to rooftop cell sites in New Orleans to boost signals, the spokesmen said.
Despite a massive effort with thousands of repair workers on the scene, the situation is obviously difficult, said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecommunications analyst in Atlanta. "All the carriers are still in survival mode," he said. "Some cities are better than others, but it is all one big mess.
"I think it will be a long time before we can determine how each carrier is doing, but it will not be easy," Kagan said. "This is much worse than the 9/11 emergency. It is not just a part of a city like New York. It is the entire Southeast that has been devastated.
"You have to be able to run repair trucks, but first you have to clear the streets," he continued.
"Some areas can be repaired quickly, and other areas will take weeks and months. It is not pretty, but the carriers are working hard to get service back up and running."
Only a small portion of a cellular call is carried over a wireless link, with cell sites usually connected to the rest of a network through T1 or fiber-optic connections, the spokesmen said.
"Flooding has its most dramatic effect on land lines, such as T1s and fiber," said Verizon spokesman Patrick Kimball. "It's still a very difficult situation" in New Orleans.
Where there is service, even in restored areas, network congestion is high, and land-line users have heard "all circuits are busy" or a fast busy signal, Bill Oliver, BellSouth's president of Lousiana operations, said in a statement. The wireless providers urged callers to use text messaging as an alternative to voice calls, partly because

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