Schumer calls for FCC action on cell outages

Schumer urged Genachowski to convene "stakeholders in the telecommunications industry to develop a national plan to ensure communications can stay up and running in the event of a future natural disaster."

"While we cannot prevent natural disasters, we can vastly improve our preparation in order to mitigate the damage they inflict," Schumer wrote.

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. 

In a statement, Genachowski said the FCC is "giving serious consideration" to Schumer's proposal.

"We must meet this 21st century public safety challenge," he said.

Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for wireless association CTIA, said the cellphone industry "takes very seriously its responsibility to restore its networks as quickly as possible."

He said the damaged caused by Sandy was of "near-Biblical proportions."

"In addition to activating mobile cell sites, carriers share spectrum, pre-position and deploy assets, pre-arrange for refueling of generators in the immediate aftermath of storms, and work tirelessly with multiple local, state and federal government agencies before, during and after the storm, including the FCC, the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA," Guttman-McCabe said.