Gustav knocks out internet, cellphone service

Power outages caused by Hurricane Gustav brought down cellular and internet service in parts of Louisiana, but its impact was much milder than that of Katrina in 2005.

AT&T Inc., the main landline phone company in the state, said it had 2,000 employees working to assess damage and perform repairs. Most of its cellular towers in areas hit by the hurricane were working Tuesday, according to spokesman Drew Giblin.

Verizon Wireless said fewer than one per cent of its Gulf Coast cell towers were out of operation Tuesday morning, mostly due to power outages.

“Power is the only critical issue affecting our network,” added Sprint Nextel Corp. spokeswoman Stephanie Vinge-Walsh. On Tuesday morning, the company was waiting for permission from officials to enter stricken areas so it could connect portable generators to blacked-out cell sites and refill the fuel tanks of those that have their own generators.

T-Mobile USA said it had also some network disruptions in south-central Louisiana due to commercial power issues.

The Associated Press bureau in New Orleans had no landline phone service Tuesday morning, and reporters had problems with their cellphones.

Katrina had a wider impact on telecommunications, prompting the Federal Communications Commission to propose a requirement that cellular carriers have eight-hour backup batteries for all their cell sites.

Wireless industry association CTIA, Sprint and T-Mobile fought the requirement in court and have prevented it from taking effect. The carriers say that requiring each cell site, even in areas that aren’t disaster-prone, to have its own backup power is expensive and robs the companies of the flexibility to deploy generators in more sensitive areas.

Renesys Corp., a firm that keeps track of the pathways of the internet, noted that parts of the Louisiana network of cable company Charter Communications Inc. apparently disappeared from the internet on Monday as Gustav rolled in, but the effect was also minor compared with that of Katrina.

Charter spokesman Marty Richmond confirmed the outage, and said it was due to power problems. Also, Charter’s personnel needs to be allowed back to the evacuated areas.

Intercosmos Media Group Inc., which is based in downtown New Orleans and hosts nearly two million websites, lost nearly a third of its internet bandwidth on Monday, chief executive Sigmund Solares said. However, the company had plenty of excess capacity and the loss did not affect operations.

Intercosmos lost commercial power for six minutes on Tuesday morning and had to rely on its diesel generators, but that was nothing compared with the aftermath of Katrina, when power was out for 10 days and the company had to scrounge for fuel in the neighbourhood.

Katrina’s devastation still lingers with the company. Solares was determined to stay in New Orleans after the storm, but has had trouble attracting people to work there.

“We have a very empty office in New Orleans,” he said.

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