Cellphone service outages reported in the wake of Hurricane Sandy

Major cellphone service providers said Tuesday they are experiencing outages in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which slammed the East Coast Monday night.

The companies and federal officials on Tuesday afternoon were still assessing the extent of the damage and disruption to service that can be critical during emergencies, allowing users to get timely information or call for help.

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The carriers are reporting outages to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) through the voluntary Disaster Information Reporting System. The FCC will coordinate with the companies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to restore services.

AT&T said it is "experiencing some issues in areas heavily impacted by the storm."

"We are in the initial stages of performing an on-the-ground assessment of our network for damage and crews will be working around the clock to restore service," the company said in a statement. "We are deploying personnel and equipment as soon as it is safe to do so."

Sprint said customers in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New England and Washington, D.C., might be experiencing service problems. 

The company explained that cellphone service can black out if the cell towers are damaged from debris or flooding, or lose their connections or power.

"Weather and safety conditions are still dire in some areas, but our technicians are assessing the damage and servicing sites as they become known to us and as the areas are deemed safe to enter," Sprint said. "Given the on-going weather conditions, we cannot provide a specific number of impacted customers, but we ask that they remain patient at this time and exercise caution in the aftermath of the recent events."

T-Mobile acknowledged that customers in the hardest-hit areas may have lost service.

"T-Mobile rapid response engineering teams are assessing the situation and we are moving as quickly as possible," the company said.

A Verizon spokesman said he had no immediate comment, but added that the company expected to have more information available later in the day.

Before the storm hit on Monday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski spoke to the chief executives of the major communications companies, discussing preparedness efforts and offering the commission's resources and support.

The FCC's emergency response team, which includes top commission officials, worked through the weekend to prepare for the storm.

The FCC has agents that it can send into the field with devices that analyze which frequencies are still carrying signals and which frequencies have gone dark. The information can help FEMA and state officials restore communications services. The FCC also has field engineers who can help FEMA's communications recovery efforts. 

The FCC published a tip sheet online on Monday to help the public communicate during the storm. The FCC encourages people to limit their non-emergency phone calls and to keep calls short so mobile networks aren't congested. The tip sheet also recommends that people text message rather than call one another for non-emergency conversations.