Lets’ be realistic when we ask if government should act as “big brother” and require Wireless Industry carriers to back-up cell towers in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. This issue came to light before Sandy began its rampage on the East Coast this past week. As reported by the Huffington Post, legislation was introduced prior to the mega storm that ravaged the New York, and New Jersey coastal landscape. Such government mandates would have required cell phone carriers to back-up their cell towers with power generators. The legislation went nowhere fast, struck down by heavy wireless industry lobbying.
Free Enterprise System not designed to Police Itself
As the Wireless Industry pointed out via the CTIA Association, private sector companies are not in the business of investing in non-revenue generating capital expenditures. This is especially true in what is characterized as a catastrophic event that may, or may not, happen again in coming years. What these companies are good at doing is maximizing shareholder equity, that is, if spending does not justify stakeholder benefits, companies will not voluntarily undertake seemingly logical infrastructure upgrades for the public good. Our economic system does not work in that manner, and never will. This is the lesson government should have learned by now.
CTIA Outlines Voluntary Measures to Ensure Network Continuity
In a July 2011 filing with the FCC the CTIA Wireless Association detailed industry efforts of private carriers to provide resiliency in network operations in disaster situations. An excerpt reiterates the industries commitment to that end.
The wireless industry understands that continuity of service and survivability of broadband networks is extremely important to society. During the aftermath of major disasters, many individuals rely on wireless as their sole means of communication because of its mobile nature and the speed in which carriers restore service to affected areas. The wireless industry not only accepts this responsibility, but embraces it through multi-faceted efforts to create national and local strategies to promote resiliency of communications infrastructure.
- Wireless operators promote continuity in their networks by providing redundancy where applicable. By switching between overlapping networks companies can handle temporary overloads or loss of cell towers in this manner.
- The deployment of temporary remote base stations on wheels, when circumstances arise, such as a weather disaster will replace coverage due to damaged infrastructure.
- Citing lessons learned from hurricane Katrina, the industry has implemented back-up power generators to facilities it deems susceptible natural disasters.
Representing voluntary methods of ensuring network continuity the CTIA, in effect, relies on private sector compliance without incentives to off-set that investment.
Entice, Rather Than Regulate Private Sector
Rather than illuminate the division of private sector vs. public sector needs in wireless redundancy the FCC should take an incentive method to entice wireless companies to continue upgrading infrastructure that includes continuity in network operations. This type of incentive could be readily available through the USF (Universal Service Fund) which subsidizes telecommunication operators to invest in growth and infrastructure upgrades. Having long been the entitlement for telephone operators to expand phone service to all U.S. geographical areas, it should be amended to incorporate the high growth, demand, and dependency on wireless services by both public and private sectors.
While it is a natural evolution for public and private initiatives, the FCC should make use of taxes funding the USF to encourage a voluntary compliance. As such, each company would weigh the consequences of not doing so with competitive market dynamics via customer retention in their continuity plans. Government and private sector agendas should be aligned in a collaborative approach, side-stepping the top-down mandates which create divisions and thereby a stalemate.
Image via AT&T.com