* AT&T, T-Mobile USA sign wireless roaming agreement
* Sprint, AT&T say making progress in network improvements
* Verizon Wireless offers free charging for all cell phones
By Sinead Carew and Diane Bartz
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, Oct 31 Telecommunications
companies said they were working to restore services on
Wednesday after floods and power outages from Hurricane Sandy
affected mobile phones, internet, home phones and television in
the U.S. Northeast.
Rivals AT&T Inc and T-Mobile USA said they agreed to
open their networks to each other's customers in New York and
New Jersey to help their coverage as a result of the storm.
Verizon Communications Inc said it was still focusing
its efforts on restoring services for its landline services
below 39th Street, where it said "conditions are bleak."
The New York-based company, which had flooding in three
central offices that hold key telecom equipment, said it spent
the last day pumping water out of its buildings and bringing in
portable generators to power the building.
It said that flooded basements had damaged some generators
and fuel pumps but that its voice switches and data equipment
located on higher floors were not damaged.
Sprint Nextel Inc, the No. 3 U.S. wireless provider,
and AT&T, the No. 2 wireless service, said they were making
progress in improving their wireless services.
The number of wireless broadcast towers that are out of
service in Sprint's network is declining, according to
spokeswoman Crystal Davis.
"We are getting the sites back up and running. We are
working aggressively," Davis said but noted that it was too soon
to release numbers. However, the company said that workers are
unable to access cell sites in some flooded areas.
FLOODING, POWER LOSS, DEBRIS
AT&T said it could not say how much the pact with Deutsche
Telekom's T-Mobile USA would improve its coverage.
"The vast majority of our cell sites in the Northeast are
online and working," AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said but he
noted that the company is still having issues.
He said that "flooding, power loss, transportation and
debris all pose challenges," in areas that were hard-hit in New
York City and New Jersey.
Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon and Vodafone Group
Plc said that more than 94 percent of its cell towers
between Maine and Virginia were up and running.
It is still working to restore services at sites that are
offline in New York City and northern New Jersey.
"As power and connectivity conditions have improved over the
last 24 hours, we have seen some improvement to wireless service
in Lower Manhattan and elsewhere in the Metropolitan area,"
Verizon Wireless said.
Verizon Wireless and Sprint both use the same network
technology. Neither company had any immediate comment when asked
whether they have had any discussions about forging an agreement
similar to the network roaming agreement forged by AT&T and
NO POWER TO CHARGE PHONES
Along with spotty coverage many people in New York City were
having trouble finding a power source to charge their phones
because of electricity outages in large portions of the city.
Verizon Wireless said it is offering free cellphone charging
to customers of any operator who come into its stores in the
hurricane region. It is working on delivering mobile charging
stations to hard-hit areas such as New York City.
The Federal Communications Commission had said on Tuesday
that about 25 percent of cell sites were out of service and it
warned that wireless service could get worse before it gets
better due to power outages.
On Wednesday afternoon, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said
conditions were improving but that "serious outages remain,
particularly in New York, New Jersey and other hard-hit areas."
The regulator said there were still some problems with
emergency calls that it had referenced on Tuesday.
Some emergency 911 calls were still being re-routed to other
911 call centers, and were arriving without data showing police
or firefighters where the caller was located, David Turetsky,
the head of the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
said in a call with reporters.
CABLE SERVICES DISRUPTED
Cable operators Cablevision Systems Corp, Comcast
Corp and Time Warner Cable also said they were
having service problems.
Time Warner Cable said that while it has had no reports of
significant damage to its network it is hard to assess the
situation because many of its customers have no power.
It said it has crews ready to go to affected neighborhoods
once power has been restored to examine any local damage and
Cablevision, which had been due to report earnings Nov. 1,
said on Wednesday that it rescheduled the release to Nov. 6 "due
to the recovery efforts underway following Hurricane Sandy."
The day before Cablevision had said it faced widespread
service interruptions primarily related to loss of power and
that it was working on service restoration.
Canaccord Genuity analyst Tom Eagan expects Cablevision to
incur "significant storm-related costs" in the current quarter.
The company had booked $20 million of costs related to Hurricane
Irene, which hit the U.S. Northeast in 2011, Eagan said in a
Comcast, whose headquarters is in Philadelphia and serves
East Coast states, said it had nothing new to report on
Wednesday. It had said on Tuesday that service should be
restored as power comes back.