State Senator Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, plans to introduce legislation to require all cell sites have generators, but the wireless industry says such mandates are not necessary and not realistic. 

Roraback, whose district has had its share of fights over cell tower placement, says that cell phones have become an important part of emergency preparedness and need to be functional. 

Read more about cell phone outages

“Equipping cell phone towers with generator backup is an affordable, common sense way to improve communication and public safety,” Roraback said in a press release yesterday.

The wireless industry doesn’t agree.  Verizon Wireless spokesman Michael Murphy says that 90 percent of the towers the company operates in Connecticut have backup generators.  He says a competitive marketplace should drive these investments, not additional regulation. 

“Customers can vote with their pocketbook, and today they have the option to choose Verizon Wireless, where we have already made this type of investment in reliability on their behalf,” Murphy said. 

Verizon reported that 99 percent of their Connecticut network is functioning in the wake of the storm, adding that 90 percent of their cellular sites already had some form of backup generation in place. 

Roraback says that some things should not be left to market forces.

“Few consumers have the presence of mind when buying a cell phone to ask about generators,” he said. 

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), representing most of the wireless carriers in the United States, sued the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over a 2007 rule to require backup power at cellular towers and network centers. The rule was later overturned by the Bush administration and the case was dismissed. The wireless industry did begin voluntary reporting of power related outages of cellular phone service to the FCC after that ruling was overturned. Efforts continue by the FCC to bring the ruling back in some form.

The industry also points to issues that are more localized in nature. Many landlords who lease property for cellular towers may prohibit the installation of generators. Local zoning regulations can create some obstacles as well. And in the case of rooftop cellular towers, engineering challenges related to fueling the generators also add complexity. 

“As far as local regulations, I think they should be trumped when it comes to this issue of public safety. The law can contain a waiver provision for exceptional circumstances but I think the norm has to be that we have reliable service,” Roraback said. 

An AT&T spokesman referred CTTechJunkie to the CTIA’s position on the issue. 

Do you think cellular services should be required to install backup generators?  Or should the market reward companies with reliable service?  Let us know in the comments.