Networking

Hurricane Harvey help: Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon offer free services, try to keep networks up

About 95% of cell sites in Rockport, TX, aren't working. Telecom providers are stepping up to help and offering recommendations to residents.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon are offering free services to subscribers in the most devastated areas, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

About 95% of cell sites in Rockport, TX, close to where the hurricane made landfall, aren't working, according to the FCC. Cell phone users who rely on this hard-hit site can't send or receive phone calls or use cell data, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Of the 7,804 cell sites across the affected region, 320, or 4%, are out of service, the FCC said, with the most impacted areas in Aransas County, Refugio County, Calhoun County, and San Patricio County. However, these counties were evacuated, so it's unclear how many people are affected by the outages, or which carriers went down, the Wall Street Journal noted.

More than 148,000 people in the path of the hurricane were without cable or wireline service on Sunday, according to the FCC.

SEE: Severe weather and emergency policy (Tech Pro Research)

Cell towers tap grid towers for normal operations, but most have backup batteries that can last up to eight hours, as well as fuel generators that can then keep them running after that. However, the towers can still be disrupted if they get flooded or if equipment is blown away, carriers told the Wall Street Journal.

Verizon is offering free service to monthly subscribers in the hurricane's path until September 8, according to the report. Verizon representatives told the Wall Street Journal that the company sent in extra crews to Texas in the days leading up to the storm, and topped off the fuel in each of their tower's backup generators.

"Verizon's network continues to perform well throughout the storm's impacted area," the carrier wrote in an email to the paper. "As anticipated, commercial power is out in many places throughout Texas, but backup generators are running and refueling vendors are on standby to ensure facilities continue operating."

Sprint is also offering free unlimited service to those in the area until September 1. A Sprint spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal that "a relatively small number of cell sites are impacted due to commercial power outages but overall the network is holding up well."

T-Mobile is offering free calling and texting for customers in the affected areas, as well as those trying to reach them, the company reported. Half of the provider's Corpus Christi market, which includes Rockport, has some level of service degradation, a spokesperson reported—less disruptive than that during other recent storms, including last year's Hurricane Matthew. While impassable roads kept crews from responding to damaged cell towers, fewer than 50 locations were affected, the spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal.

AT&T representatives also reported that the company's networks in the area were performing well so far. "Our technicians are working to restore service to affected areas as quickly and safely as conditions allow," according to a spokesperson quoted in the report.

The carriers advised people to keep cellphones and backup batteries charged, and to use text messaging instead of voice calling to reduce network congestion, according to the Wall Street Journal. And landline phones that use copper will still work during power outages, but those that rely on newer IP technology will not work, the report noted.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

1. Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon are offering free services to subscribers in the areas most devastated by Hurricane Harvey, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

2. In Rockport, TX, close to where the hurricane made landfall, about 95% of cell sites aren't working, according to the FCC.

3. The carriers advised people to keep cellphones and backup batteries charged, and to use text messaging instead of voice calling to reduce network congestion during the storm.

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Image: iStockphoto/potenciaverde

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About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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