Verizon Customers Could Wait 2 Weeks For Cellular Service Following Storm Damage

FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2011 file photo, Chris Cioban, manager of the Verizon store in Beachwood, Ohio, holds up an Apple iPh
FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2011 file photo, Chris Cioban, manager of the Verizon store in Beachwood, Ohio, holds up an Apple iPhone 4G. Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest cellphone company, announced Tuesday, June 12, 2012, that is dropping nearly all of its phone plans in favor of pricing schemes that encourage consumers to connect their non-phone devices, like tablets and PCs, to Verizon's network. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)

Verizon said Friday it could take up to two weeks to restore service to some customers after high winds, heavy flooding and power outages caused by Hurricane Sandy disrupted its network.

Some customers without service are expected to have it restored within a few days, but it may take much longer to bring back service in some of the hardest-hit areas, Verizon said in a statement.

The company said its progress restoring service was being slowed by downed power lines, trees and debris, closed roads, flooding and “several feet of snow” in some areas affected by the storm.

Without power in some areas of the Northeast, particularly New York and New Jersey, Verizon has been using generators to deliver Internet access and voice and data service. But the availability of fuel to keep those generators running remained a concern, the company said.

Other wireless carriers said Friday they were still trying to restore service to customers four days after the storm.

AT&T declined to reveal how much of its network was not operational, or how long it would take to fully restore service. In a statement, the company only said the “vast majority” of its cell towers in the Northeast were online and that its response teams were making progress restoring wireless and wireline services.

Sprint said Thursday about 20 percent of its network in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut was still down. On Friday, the company said it could not provide an update because “network teams are still reporting in and validating our stats.”

T-Mobile said 15 percent of its wireless network in New York City was still not operating.

A Time Warner Cable spokesman said Friday that its crews were making repairs to its network and “we believe that most of our subscribers' service will return as the power does."

David Turetsky, the FCC’s public safety and homeland security bureau chief, said Friday the number of cell tower outages had declined from 25 percent on Tuesday to 15 percent, though regulators were collecting data from fewer states. He said 17 percent of cable customers were still without service

Before the storm, telecom providers had said they were prepared with batteries, generators, and mobile equipment to keep networks running. But Hurricane Sandy’s heavy winds and flooding nevertheless caused widespread damage to their network equipment.

As the outages have continued, some experts say regulators may impose new rules that require wireless providers to make their networks more resilient during major storms.

After Hurricane Katrina, which disrupted wireless networks that emergency responders used to communicate, federal regulators proposed rules that required providers to have backup power at cell sites. Wireless providers challenged the regulations in court, arguing the commission lacked the authority and the rules would be a financial burden. In 2009, an appeals court dismissed the rules.

In an interview, Jamie Barnett, the former FCC public safety and homeland security bureau chief, said federal regulators will likely propose new guidelines for the industry -- like requiring better backup power at cell sites -- in an effort to lessen the chance of sustained wireless outages like those occurring this week after Hurricane Sandy.

"I don't think it's any surprise that one of the major problems is that cell sites don't have power," he told The Huffington Post. "A lot of cell sites have battery backup but that's only going to last for a certain amount of time."

He added, "I would be surprised if we see some FCC action on this."