What Happens When Critical Cell Networks Fail?

What Happens When Critical Cell Networks Fail?

On June 22, with most of the nation quarantined and watching anxiously as demonstrations troubled the cities, a cellular circuit in the Southwest failed. What does this mean for you and your business?

A service outage to remember. That one failed circuit took down a fiber provider, which overloaded T-Mobile's network, and took down voice as well as data for all its customers for 13 hours. That started a rumor about cyberattacks. Then, as customers across the country complained on social media, sites like Downdetector threw up scary maps of mass outages.

An alien invasion? Maybe the NSA was shutting down communication? Was it Antifa? Were the Russians coming? Or maybe China? Nope, none of those things. It was that bad circuit. T-Mobile eventually said engineers were working all night to solve the problem. The resulting false posts and crazy memes sparked something of a panic. According to the Claims Journal, the situation exposed a critical shortcoming in the nation's information grid.

There’s no central site for outages. Sites like Downdetector.com are helpful, but they rely, in part, on data gleaned from online information. The status reports available on Downdetector, and like sites, are from a series of sources including public submissions, websites, mobile applications, and even social media.

Could government or protestors shut down cell service? It's never been used, but the president does have the power to order a full shut down of cell service. In order for the president to shut down cell service, he or she would have to invoke the Civil Insurrection Act, which gives the power to order cell service providers to shut down. On the other hand, while it is a federal crime, organized protest groups could disrupt cell service with jamming devices as well. Such devices are easily purchased and deployed.

The Federal Communications Act could also provide an exception for police during emergencies. Technically, police could go to cell providers and say the emergency requires services to be suspended. That has never happened, but this is also a possibility. Imagine a life with no cellular service!