Sandy wreaked havoc with the nation's communications from Virginia to Massachusetts and as far west as Michigan. The slow-moving monster took out about 25 percent of wireless, broadband, cable and telephone services throughout 158 counties resulting in dead air for 7 to 8 million people, the Federal Communications Commission reported Tuesday afternoon during a press briefing.
The counties included in the report are part of the agency's Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS), a voluntary web-based system that communications providers, including wireless, wireline, broadcast, cable and voice over Internet protocol providers use to report communications infrastructure status and problems during a crisis.
Just because the storm moved off, doesn't mean it's over, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski stressed. "Communications outages could get worse before they get better, particularly for mobile," he said, blaming towers, flooding and snow, which cause delays in restoration, cleanup and access to sites.
Staff at the FCC has been working 24/7 to ease communications by granting a number of temporary authorizations to media and wireless companies to make frequency changes or move towers to accommodate customers and first responders.
Genachowski urged consumers to conserve power on wireless devices by limiting "non-essential" cell phone calls and using texting and emailing when possibl; 911 should only be used for life-threatening emergencies to avoid overloading first responders.
Cell phone, broadband, and cable services are slowly improving, the FCC reported during a follow-up briefing on Wednesday afternoon. Cable and broadband outages dropped from a high of 25 percent to well under 20 percent, while the percentage of cell phone sites knocked off the air improved by only a few percentage points. Only a small number of radio stations remain dark.