Academic journal article Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal

Discontinuance in the Face of Destruction: The Future of Telecommunications Law after Superstorm Sandy

Academic journal article Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal

Discontinuance in the Face of Destruction: The Future of Telecommunications Law after Superstorm Sandy

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION II. SANDY'S IMPACT ON AMERICAN INFRASTRUCTURE III. THE HISTORY OF TELECOMMUNICATION LAW AND        REGULATIONS        A. The Computer Inquiries        B. Divestiture of Bell and Computer Inquiry III        C. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 IV. THE END OF AN ERA: TURNING THE TIDE ON        TELECOMMUNICATIONS V. PROPOSED REFORMS        A. The FCC Should Provide New Rules for Disaster            Relief        B. Principles for Long Term Transitions 

I. INTRODUCTION

When a natural disaster occurs, the devastation often serves as a wakeup call for society to recognize its dependence on technology. It seems with each new technological development, we become increasingly reliant on the ability to connect and communicate instantaneously, such that any lapse in electronic service feels like the end of the world. On October 30, 2012, the most densely populated region in America faced this realization when Superstorm Sandy struck New York and New Jersey. (1)

When Superstorm Sandy (2) made landfall, pandemonium struck the nerves of millions of people in the Northeast. "[M]any residents found themselves unable to communicate because wireless and cable networks, unlike the old copper network, are not self-powered." (3) Immediate reports calculated that "[m]ore than 8.2 million households were without power in 17 states," about two million of which were in New York City. (4) While many individuals were scrambling to find a source of heat and gasoline, major telephone companies were busy trying to repair the damaged infrastructure and restore a sense of security. Telephone restoration was accomplished in some locations more efficiently than in others, where the road to recovery raised important questions about the future of telecommunications law.

This note discusses Voice Link, a Verizon Wireless (5) voice-only service that was substituted for traditional copper landlines in areas severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy. (6) It examines Verizon's carrier of last resort obligations under the federal Common Carrier Regulation (7) and addresses whether Voice Link's wireless home phone service satisfies the standard. Part I discusses the impact of Superstorm Sandy on telecommunications infrastructure and the emergence of Voice Link as a replacement. Part II outlines the history of regulations and lawsuits that imposed federal requirements on companies like Verizon, which historically had a monopoly over certain essential services. In Part III, this note analyzes how public policy and regulations have failed to keep up with the changed landscape of telecommunications services, introducing the issues and arguments set forth in Part IV, through the lens of the Voice Link debate. Given the current outlook, federal reforms are needed to protect victims of natural disasters and to provide for a safe transition into the next generation of telecommunications technology.

II. SANDY'S IMPACT ON AMERICAN INFRASTRUCTURE

In the final week of October 2012, Superstorm Sandy ravaged the east coast, killing over one hundred people, destroying more than half of a million homes, and leaving the nation's most densely populated area in an unprecedented state of disarray. (8) By the time the storm reached New Jersey, "Superstorm Sandy ... slammed into Atlantic City as a strong Category 1 (90 mph)" (9) hybrid storm that not only destroyed power lines and the city's famous boardwalk (10) but also left hundreds of individuals stranded." In New York City, "[s]eawater ... inundated tunnels, subway stations and the electrical system that powers Wall Street...." (12) The total cost of the storm was estimated to be around "$65 billion in damage ... making it the second-costliest weather disaster in American history behind only Hurricane Katrina." (13)

One of the most perplexing aspects of Superstorm Sandy was how it affected different geographic locations in vastly different ways. While some areas were fortunate enough to have power restored within days, other areas took weeks to regain power. …

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