TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Region's Telephone Service Slowly Improving

Region's Telephone Service Slowly Improving

Keith Darce (
Thu, 15 Sep 2005 22:03:56 -0500

By Keith Darce, Business Writer

Damages repaired, systems adjusted

Those irritating busy signals and congested network messages on your
telephone soon may be a thing of the past.

After more than two weeks of sporadic service because of Hurricane
Katrina, telephone lines in southeastern Louisiana are slowly
returning to normal as phone companies not only repair storm-damaged
networks but adjust their systems to contend with population shifts.

Meanwhile, the Louisiana Public Service Commission on Wednesday asked
wireless phone companies in the state to give customers free service
for September and October because wireless phones have become the only
means of communication for many evacuees. Whether they will remains an
open question.

Despite the overall improvement in phone service, about 150,000
BellSouth Corp. phone lines remained dead Wednesday, mostly in the
parishes of Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard, said
Merlin Villar, a spokesman for the region's biggest local phone
service provider. Much of those parishes remain evacuated. "We
honestly do not know when landline phone service will be restored in
for most of New Orleans; no decisions reached yet."

Outside of the hardest-hit area, most outgoing local and long distance
calls Wednesday were connected on the first try, an improvement from a
couple of days earlier. But many people calling into Baton Rouge and
other southeastern Louisiana cities still had to dial several times to
complete their calls.

BellSouth workers have repaired more than 100 breaks in the company's
buried fiber-optic cable network that serves as the backbone of the
region's local phone system. AT&T technicians had installed a new
fiber-optic line between the Mississippi state line and Bay St. Louis,
Miss., to bypass a pair of flooded computer switches in eastern New
Orleans that are part of the long-distance company's high-capacity
network in the region.

Wireless phone companies also have repaired antennas, also known as
cell sites, in areas that weren't flooded.

Verizon Wireless has restored cell sites in Armstrong Park on the edge
of the French Quarter, on the roof of Royal Sonesta Hotel in the
French Quarter and on top of a residence hall at the Uptown campus of
Tulane University, Verizon spokesman Patrick Kimball said.

"There has been a lot of progress in bringing back up cell sites," he

Cingular's wireless network in southeastern Louisiana was 85 percent
restored by Wednesday afternoon, Cingular spokeswoman Dawn Benton

Even with the progress, dialing into the region from outside Louisiana
remained a problem for many, particularly during peak calling
hours. To prevent the high calling volumes from jamming networks, some
long-distance companies were limiting incoming calls so outgoing calls
from storm victims and relief workers could be completed.

Other companies, such as Sprint, were rerouting many long-distance
calls through other Southern cities because regional switches in New
Orleans were submerged or otherwise inoperable. The rerouting caused
problems for some Sprint customers along the Gulf Coast from Louisiana
to Florida, Sprint spokeswoman Kristen Wallace said.

Call volume on Sprint's network in southeastern Louisiana has doubled
since the storm, only adding to the congestion, she said.

Wireless service providers encouraged customers to send more text
messages because they use up smaller amounts of network capacities and
are easier to complete.

The request for free cell service for customers was made by the public
service commissioners, who do not regulate wireless phone
networks. They sent their request to the Federal Communications
Commission, which has jurisdiction over the companies.

Many wireless service providers already have offered breaks on some
services, phones and accessories.

For example, Sprint customers from areas affected by the hurricane
will not be charged for long-distance calls, roaming on outside
networks, sending text messages or exceeding the number of calling
minutes on their service plan.

Keith Darce can be reached at

Copyright 2003

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