Hurricane Sandy serves as a reminder that when it comes to technology, new and flashy doesn’t always outperform old and reliable. Power blackouts and gasoline shortages left cell phone users without service during the storm and for days afterward.
Disruptions in cell phone service are, unfortunately, most likely to develop during disasters such as Sandy. And, of course, it’s at precisely such times people need reliable communication. With landline use dwindling across the U.S., Sandy makes it apparent that the wired-line POT (plain old telephone) isn’t as obsolete as we thought it was.
The Demise of the POT
The humble landline hasn’t fared well over the last decade. As cell and smartphones increased in popularity, the poor old POT began to fade into obscurity. Almost 40 percent of American homes have cut landlines altogether, relying completely on cell phones and Internet connections for communication purposes.
The rise of cell phones also affects public phone availability. The Federal Communications Commission reports only 550,000 public phones on American streets, down from 2.1 million only a decade ago.
From a daily use standpoint, the switch from wired to wireless makes sense. Why pay for a single-point landline when you can go anywhere with a cell phone? The rise of smartphones set wired lines back even further. With a landline, I can phone someone to order some software. With a smartphone, I can research different software packages, compare prices, and order my final choice from anywhere in the world.
We Have the Technology, We Just Lack the Gas
The POT seems destined to go the way of vinyl, VHS and 8-tracks. Hurricane Sandy, however, proved we shouldn’t be in too big a hurry to drive the landline into extinction. The storm’s power blackouts resulted in many a run-down cell phone battery, which you’d expect. What cell phone users didn’t expect was widespread loss of cell phone service.
Falling trees and other debris damaged some cell phone towers, but many failed for another reason: lack of gas. When the storm hit, cell phone providers rushed electric generators out to the towers to maintain service. Generators run on gas. And as Sandy continued to pummel New York and New Jersey, gas became increasingly scarce. Eventually, service providers couldn’t maintain enough gas supply to keep the generators running, and wireless service went black.
Landlines, on the other hand, performed well during Sandy. A landline doesn’t run on electricity, so it is less vulnerable to energy blackouts. Additionally, copper-plated landlines are tough; as public utilities, landlines were designed to continue operating during disasters.
True, lower Manhattan landlines went down due to flooding; landlines are not immune to damage. But by and large, landlines continued to provide service when cell phone service failed.
What can we learn from this? If cell phone providers truly want to replace landlines, they need to strengthen their disaster response policies and arrange for more reliable emergency power than gas-powered generators.
In the meantime, if you live in an area prone to natural disasters, don’t be too quick to give up your landline. In case of disaster, you could have cell-phone dependant neighbors beating a path to your door and your reliable, humble POT.
Author Bio:- By night, Carl is an aspiring writer constantly striving to strengthen his writing skills, and he is continuously grateful that the Internet allows him to share his thoughts with the world. By day he works for a company specializing in contractor accounting software. He loves blogging about anything and everything that crosses his mind.