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Secret Service Won't Disable Cell Phone Service

You may have heard rumors that the U.S. Secret Service or wireless companies might somehow disable or limit cell phone service on Inauguration Day to preserve
bandwidth for emergency government users.

Well, yes and no. The Secret Service says that it has no capacity and no such responsibilities to do so.

"We've had several inquiries. Are we going to shut down cell phone coverage? Do we have the capacity to do that if we have an incident? That's not the case at all," Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said. "I haven't heard anything about that. The U.S. Secret Service isn't responsible for anything like that."

Joe Farren, spokesman for CTIA -- The Wireless Association, the industry trade group-- said he also had heard the rumor but added, "It makes no sense to me."

The industry has been preparing for months to boost capacity in the face of expected record-breaking demand, adding radio channels, additional cell towers on wheels and in trucks, in-building wireless coverage and network capacity.

As it turns out, government users already have access to an emergency telecommunications services that allows authorized users to get priority access to dial tone and wireless signals. Basically, the system allows them to jump to the head of the line. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, a similar capability was created to give certain government users priority wireless service.

The bottom line for the public is, despite added capacity, expect that a surge in users will create some back-ups, which will grow worse in case of any kind of emergency. The industry reminds customers that if they want to save bandwidth and increase their satisfaction:
-- text, don't talk;
-- Snap and save photographs and video to send later; and
-- Have a backup plan, in case communications among your party are disrupted.

By Spencer S. Hsu

By David A Nakamura  |  January 19, 2009; 11:10 AM ET  | Category:  Security
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