Cellphones: Most service survived Irene

Cellphones went dead after 400 cell towers went offline in parts of North Carolina and Virginia. But other areas hit by hurricane Irene were mostly spared.

By , AP Technology Writer

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    A woman on her cellphone passes boarded up windows at The Burlington Coat Factory in Chelsea in Lower Manhattan in New York before hurricane Irene hit. Although shops closed and public transit shut down during the storm, cellphones in the city were largely unaffected by the storm.
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Wireless networks fell quiet Sunday in some coastal areas of North Carolina and southern Virginia, but calls from cellphones were going through in most areas affected by Tropical Storm Irene, the Federal Communications Commission said.

In Lenoir, Greene and Carteret counties of North Carolina, 50 percent to 90 percent of cell towers went offline, said Rear Adm. Jamie Barnett, head of the public safety bureau of the Federal Communications Commission.

About 400 cell towers were offline in North Carolina and Virgina, with power outages the chief reason. Another 200 towers were running on backup power by Saturday night and could go silent as their backup batteries or generators run dry, Barnett said.

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Landline phone service failed for about 125,000 households on the coast, the FCC said. Another 250,000 have lost cable service, and some of them could have phone service from the cable company, which would then also be out.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the 911 system has held up well. There were no reports of call-center outages or call congestion, he told The Associated Press.

Public-safety networks for police, firefighters and ambulance crews also were working.

Networks in the biggest population center in the path of the storm, the greater New York metropolitan area, were largely spared.

And Verizon Wireless spokesman Thomas Pica said most of its customers haven't experienced any disruptions.

"The Verizon Wireless network continues to perform well all along the East Coast, including in the many affected communities," Pica said in an emailed statement. "Some cell sites in communities that have lost commercial power are operating on our own emergency backup generators to help us continue providing wireless service to our customers."

In New York City itself, Barnett said, only 1 percent of cell towers went off the air. Time Warner Cable Inc., one of the city's two cable companies, said it had reports of sporadic outages. Verizon Communications Inc., the local phone company, was running some switching centers on backup power.

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