FCC to hold hearings on cellphone outages

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The hearings will begin early next year and will take place in regions throughout the country that have been hit by natural disasters, beginning with New York, the FCC said.

They will include testimony from business representatives, public safety officials, engineering experts, consumers and other stakeholders.

“This unprecedented storm has revealed new challenges that will require a national dialogue around ideas and actions to ensure the resilience of communications networks," Genachowski said in a statement.

“I want to thank Senator Chuck Schumer for his leadership, and welcome his call for the Commission to develop a roadmap for how to better protect critical communications functions during major disasters,” he added.

Debris, high winds and flooding damaged many cell towers, while others without a backup power source were disabled when electric grids failed.

The FCC adopted backup power requirements for cell towers in 2007 following Hurricane Katrina, but a federal appeals court ruled against the regulations in 2008, and the Office of Management and Budget blocked them later that year.

The FCC is currently exploring the possibility of deploying drones or balloons during an emergency to restore cellphone service. 

"Field hearings will increase our understanding of the problems encountered during Superstorm Sandy and harvest the best ideas to ensure that mobile phone service doesn't fail after future storms," Schumer said in a statement. "Mobile communication has become an essential part of our lives, and increasing its reliability must be a top priority."