One of the many lessons that Hurricane sandy taught New York and New Jersey is that much of its public infrastructure is very old and outdated. One of the reasons why Sandy caused so many power outages for example was because falling trees knocked down power lines which would not have been a problem if our power lines were underground. This weekend we learned of yet another development in the rebuilding after Sandy. In many of the hardest hit areas copper-based landline service isn’t returning. The reason is more a lack of supply rather than a lack of demand. Companies that used to specialize in manufacturing the necessary infrastructure for landlines have since gone out of business or have been bought out and exited the landline market. In many cases many of the most important pieces that service providers need to rebuild are only available on eBay.
This goes to show you that the wider markets are favoring wireless over wired communications. About 36 percent of Americans now live in cell-phone only households ditching landline service altogether. Verizion, which is the largest telecom provider in the Sandy affected areas, has reported a 67 percent drop in the number of landline customers they have had since 2000. The solution that they have come up for these areas is a service called VoiceLink which is a box that customers can install in their homes and provides basic phone service. However, that box connects to Verizon’s wireless network instead of any copper landline. While this is a workable solution for phone service it’s important to keep in mind that it only provides phone service and not internet access. I think a story like this underscores the speed at which our communications technology is changing and how communications infrastructure that for decades was considered absolutely critical has reached a point where it can’t even be replaced when natural disasters destroy it.