Ru­ral cell­phone cov­er­age will be spotty dur­ing so­lar eclipse

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY JIM SAL­TER

ST. LOUIS | If you plan to livestream next month’s so­lar eclipse from one of the prime view­ing spots, here’s a thought: Keep your phone in your pocket, put on your pa­per shades and just en­joy the ce­les­tial won­der.

The Aug. 21 so­lar eclipse, when pas­sage of the moon com­pletely blocks out the sun, will be seen first in Ore­gon and cut di­ag­o­nally across 14 states to South Carolina. It will be the first to­tal so­lar eclipse vis­i­ble coast-to-coast since 1918.

The best places to see it fall within a 60- to 70-mile-wide swath known as the “path of to­tal­ity,” where there will be pe­ri­ods of to­tal dark­ness rang­ing up to two min­utes and 40 sec­onds.

The path carves through largely ru­ral ar­eas, where cell­phone ser­vice can be spotty at best, though, so it may not be pos­si­ble to quickly post to Face­book, In­sta­gram and the like even though car­ri­ers plan to tem­po­rar­ily boost ca­pac­ity in some places.

“We’re ex­pect­ing a good ex­pe­ri­ence but there will be times at peak where the net­work will strug­gle,” said Paula Dou­blin, as­sis­tant vice pres­i­dent for con­struc­tion and en­gi­neer­ing for AT&T, the na­tion’s sec­ond-largest provider.

Some com­mu­ni­ties are host­ing eclipse-watch gath­er­ings that are ex­pected to draw tens of thou­sands of peo­ple.

The 6,700 res­i­dents of Madras, Ore­gon, will be far out­num­bered by visi­tors, and Ver­i­zon, AT&T and Sprint all plan to bring por­ta­ble tow­ers for its event.

AT&T will de­ploy eight por­ta­ble cell tow­ers across the coun­try — in Madras and Mitchell, Ore­gon; Columbia, Owensville and Wash­ing­ton in Mis­souri; Car­bon­dale, Illi­nois; Hop­kinsville, Ken­tucky; and Glendo Reser­voir, Wy­oming.

“It is very much akin to a na­tional cham­pi­onship week that oc­curs with the NCAA or pro sports, ex­cept it’s hap­pen­ing in a 3,000-mile-long band,” Ms. Dou­blin said.

Sprint and Ver­i­zon Wire­less, which is the na­tion’s largest cell­phone com­pany, say re­cent net­work en­hance­ments have re­duced the need for de­ploy­ment of tem­po­rary cell tow­ers at large-scale events.

Still, Sprint plans to have por­ta­ble tow­ers in Madras and Mitchell and in Rexburg, Idaho. Other lo­ca­tions are still be­ing eval­u­ated, spokes­woman Adri­enne Nor­ton said.

Ver­i­zon spokes­woman Karen Schulz said that with such large crowds ex­pected in parts of Ore­gon and Ken­tucky, Ver­i­zon will de­ploy por­ta­ble tow­ers in Madras and Bend, Ore­gon, and in Hop­kinsville, Ken­tucky. She said the com­pany could bring in por­ta­ble tow­ers else­where, if needed.

T-Mo­bile will also be boost­ing cov­er­age in places by ex­pand­ing its net­work ca­pa­bil­i­ties and de­ploy­ing tem­po­rary tow­ers.

U.S. Cel­lu­lar is still eval­u­at­ing how best to en­sure op­ti­mal con­nec­tiv­ity and “will be im­ple­ment­ing ad­di­tional ca­pac­ity and fine tun­ing the tow­ers as needed,” Robert Jakubek, vice pres­i­dent of en­gi­neer­ing and net­work op­er­a­tions, said in an email.

“At large events such as this, we usu­ally see a spike in text and data us­age more than voice, so we are also look­ing at how we can pri­or­i­tize ser­vices that are most im­por­tant to our cus­tomers,” Mr. Jakubek said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The path of the Aug. 21 so­lar eclipse carves through largely ru­ral ar­eas, where cell­phone ser­vice is known to be spotty. Livestream­ing the event may be dif­fi­cult.

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