Since cell phones are the norm, improving that network may be less expensive than maintaining and upgrading landline infrastructure
The New York Times reports on the surprising performance of cell phones during the hurricane emergency:
The rise of mobile devices turns the conventional wisdom about landline telephones on its head. For decades, the landline phone was trusted to be more reliable than the electricity grid because the phone network's dedicated power supply often survived blackouts.
But the evolution of the landline -- which first saw cordless phones (that do not work in blackouts) and Internet-based telephony (which requires a battery backup in case of blackouts) -- has led to a decrease in its reliability. That hole has been filled, to some degree, by wireless voice and data networks.
The point is half right. Some landline service was knocked out by Irene, probably as a result of damage to vulnerable above-ground links, like flooded switching stations. And my own cell service continued even after my Internet-based phone (and cable and, of course, Web) connection failed. What the article doesn't say, though, is that we have a long way to go in making the cell network nearly as reliable as landline.
Only a year or two ago, I was ready to argue that old-fashioned phone service was a vital community lifeline. It's clear that as the expense of maintaining it is falling on fewer and few subscribers, it won't be sustainable in the long run, together with its famous standard of 99.999 percent reliability and ample backup power in emergencies.