Tag: Harold Feld

This Would Raise the Price of Cell Phone Service

You’d think consumers didn’t care about price.

This HuffPo piece makes the wireless industry’s resistance to regulation requiring backup power at cell sites sound all “corporate-y.”

“The biggest issue is they have not wanted to invest the money in hardening their networks sufficiently against a catastrophic event,” says Harold Feld, senior vice president at Public Knowledge.

Industry group CTIA says the proposed requirements “would unnecessarily burden wireless carriers and potentially undermine the investments and network planning that have made their networks so successful.”

What about the fact that the cost of backup power requirements would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices?

The case for a backup power regulatory mandate sounds weak. During the biggest storm in who-knows-when, in the most populous regions of the country, “thousands” were left without cell phone service. What percentage of the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area’s population is that?

“As power returned to many areas over the weekend, wireless carriers reported that more than 95 percent of their cell towers in areas affected by the storm were working.”

Lost service is a real thing that happened, but other dimensions of preparedness and response seem to have gone much worse.

To the extent lost service had a proximate relationship to someone not getting the help they needed, Superstorm Sandy makes clear the consequences of large weather events, and it will educate consumers and cell phone providers both about the risk of lost communications during natural disasters. Both will respond as they see fit.

But raise everybody’s cell phone bill permanently to secure against outlier events? Let’s put our thinking caps on:

Given the increased cost, marginal cell phone consumers would drop their service and they wouldn’t have access to communications when they were in emergency situations.

It seems to me that getting a cheaper cell phone plan to people who may often have occasion to report muggings-in-progress is a greater protection for the public than insuring the wealthier consumer against lost service during extremely rare weather events.