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Well, Here’s Why Your Cell Phone Barely Works

A serious storm means serious problems for the communications infrastructure.
 Well, Heres Why Your Cell Phone Barely Works

Manhattanites cluster around free wifi. (Iam Lamb)

Late Monday night, you probably saw friends south of Flatiron fall off the grid and not resurface until answering your panicked text messages Tuesday morning from somewhere uptown.

That’s because, thanks to Sandy, cell service downtown is–not to put too fine a point on it–totally fucked. You might be getting patches of service, but it’s likely an exercise in massive frustration. Don’t hold your breath on it getting fixed right away, either, says the FCC.

During a conference call yesterday, CNET reports, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski revealed that 25 percent of the nation’s cell sites were out of commission, in a 10-state swath from Virginia to Massachusetts. They’re underwater, or out of power, or just plain busted. Most of the outages are concentrated in the areas where the storm damage was worst. That’s as of 10 a.m. yesterday morning.

Mr. Genachowski also added that:

“And our assumption is that communications outages could get worse before they get better, particularly for mobile networks, because of the flooding and loss of power.”

So even if you’ve got service now, that doesn’t mean you can count on keeping it.┬áThat’s because many of the cell sites in affected areas that still work are now running on backup power, and the timeline for restoration of electricity isn’t looking promising, either. Lower Manhattan, for example, might go for four days without power, long enough to exhaust battery power.

Landline outages were reportedly less extensive, though we can’t help but wonder if that’s because hardly anyone south of 14th has a landline any more.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com