Hurricane Sandy disrupts wireless and Internet services

High winds and storm surge flooding have taken their toll on cell phone, Internet, and other communications services for many in Hurricane Sandy's path.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
4 min read
The Hudson River Monday afternoon on the Upper West Side of Manhattan as Hurricane Sandy approaches. CNET/Marguerite Reardon

Residents in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy all up and down the East Coast awoke this morning to downed trees, flooding, and in some cases, no wireless, Internet, or home phone service.

Areas around New York City seemed to be most affected with millions of residents throughout the states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut without power.

All four of the major cell phone companies said subscribers in patches of their territories hit by the hurricane have been experiencing outages. In New York City, residents in downtown Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and Queens complained that AT&T's wireless service was unavailable. Meanwhile, customers further uptown had service continuously. AT&T confirmed that there were outages in some areas. And the company said it is working to assess the damage and fix the affected areas.

"As we continue to closely monitor our wireline and wireless networks for service disruptions, we are experiencing some issues in areas heavily impacted by the storm," the company said in a statement. "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. We are deploying personnel and equipment as soon as it is safe to do so."

Sprint also acknowledged that there were disruptions due to Sandy in states hit by the hurricane. And the company pointed out that there was particular damage in the New York tri-state area as well as in the Washington, D.C., metro area, Pennsylvania, and parts of New England.

Sprint provided some detail as to what may be causing the outages. The company said in a statement that in some cases where there was power loss and/or flooding, cell site backhaul connections were lost. Some damage was caused by damaging debris.

"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."

T-Mobile also acknowledged disruptions and blamed outages on high winds and weather conditions.

"Due to the impacts of Sandy, T-Mobile customers may be experiencing service disruptions or an inability to access service in some areas, especially those that were hardest hit by the storm," the company said in a statement. "T-Mobile rapid response engineering teams are assessing the situation and we are moving as quickly as possible."

Verizon Wireless declined to comment and said it was still evaluating the damage.

None of the carriers were able to offer any information about how many customers have been affected by the outages.

But wireless service customers weren't the only ones to experience service disruptions following the storm.

Verizon Communications reported this morning that its Fios voice, video, and Internet customers as well as some traditional voice and DSL Internet customers in the New York City area experienced outages due to flooding at several Verizon central offices in lower Manhattan, Queens, and Long Island City. The company said that two switching centers have been most affected with power failures. Back-up power has also been affected, the company said in a statement. The sites were on battery power, but because power was running out there, the company was forced to shut down power at some of these sites.

The 79th St. Boat Basin Marina on the Hudson River after Hurricane Sandy. CNET/Marguerite Reardon

Verizon said its engineers have been working to assess the damage.

Outside of New York City, the company also reported that utility poles and power lines where Verizon cables are strung have also suffered damage from heavy winds and falling trees.

Cablevision cable customers seem to be among the hardest hit in the aftermath of this storm. The cable company services millions of customers in the New York metropolitan area, including Long Island, which was among the hardest hit areas by Hurricane City Sandy. Time Warner Cable and Comcast also reported some outages.

Comcast sent a letter to subscribers yesterday as the storm approached warning them that service may be disrupted. The company emphasized that cable service could not be restored without commercial power. And it also noted that some customers may not get all their services back at the same time.

Comcast is diligently tracking and preparing for Hurricane Sandy so that we are equipped to serve you. As Hurricane Sandy approaches the Eastern Seaboard, those of you who are located in the impacted areas may experience a loss of one or more of your Comcast services due to the severe weather conditions. If you experience a service outage due to the storm, please remember:

• Commercial power must be restored to your home to power your cable box and modem before your video, phone and internet services can begin working again.

• Only after power lines are repaired in your area can Comcast technicians obtain access to repair any network damage the storm might have caused.

• After the storm, our broadband network will alert us to the areas affected by a system outage.

• It is possible and quite likely that during hurricane recovery, not all services will be restored at the same time and there are times when you will need to report service interruptions.

The cleanup from the storm is likely to take several days and even potentially weeks in some areas. Wireless and broadband providers have not provided information about when service will be restored for those affected. The companies are still evaluating damage.

New York City's Mayor Bloomberg said that subway service would not start working again for several days as some subway tunnels were flooded. And ConEd, the major utility company providing power in the New York City area, said it could take as much as a week to get power restored to some areas affected by the storm.