Local News

Call Volume During Snow Overwhelmed Service Capabilities

Posted January 20, 2005 2:40 a.m. EST

— A working phone is just what people stuck in traffic did not have during Wednesday's gridlock.

People were stuck in traffic, trying to call home or to a child's school and couldn't get a signal. At one point, the number of people trying use the phone was 2 1/2 times more than normal Wednesday.

So what went wrong?

One of the major problems Wednesday was that so many people were stuck behind the wheel they had nothing to do but talk on the phone. So a gridlock on the road contributed to a gridlock in phone service.

"(It was) very frustrating," said Blain Woods, a phone customer. "With the traffic and the ice you're concerned with picking up kids, getting home safely, wanting to let people know where you are and the call wouldn't go through."

John McKinney, a spokesman for Bellsouth, says nothing was wrong with their phone network. He says they simply had to handle twice their normal call volume --- and they're not equipped for it.

"You could never build a network to handle every single call at the same time just like you could never build a road system to handle every single car that wanted to drive at the same time," McKinney said.

Wireless networks were up against the same thing.

"It's kind of like you build a hotel," Brian Tubbs, of Verizon Wireless. "You build a hotel that you're only going to use 800 rooms in, you don't build it for a thousand."

Phone companies say in these situations the best rule of thumb is to use your phone sparingly.

So what would happen in a real crisis? Chances are the same thing -- only worse.

Both regular and cell phone companies say it's not cost effective to increase their call-volume capacity in order to handle a few major events every year.