Irene takes out some East Coast cellphone service

August 29, 2011 By PETER SVENSSON , AP Technology Writer

(AP) -- Wireless networks fell quiet Sunday in some coastal areas of North Carolina and southern Virginia, but calls 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 .

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.

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.

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 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 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. Inc., one of the city's two cable companies, said it had reports of sporadic outages. Inc., the local phone company, was running some switching centers on backup power.

Explore further: How to stay connected during Hurricane Irene

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