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AT&T's new fiber optic phone network could delay disaster response


AT&T wants to put its old copper-based telephone networks to rest and start testing its next-gen fiber optic cables in more locations outside the initial ones in Florida and Alabama. There's just one not-so-tiny problem: this new high-speed technology doesn't work with the government's special telephone service for national emergencies, according to the Department of Homeland Security. High-level authorities access a priority line called Government Emergency Telecommunications Service (GETS) during, say, times of disaster or terrorist attacks when phone lines are usually clogged. Without that priority line, authorities would have to brave clogged phone networks to communicate with each other, and that could delay first responders and affect response or rescue operations as a whole.

If you're wondering, GETS had been tremendously useful in the past: it was used to make 10,000 phone calls during 9/11 and 45,000 calls (in tandem with its mobile counterpart, the WPS) the year Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc. So, AT&T's at least willing to work with the DHS to configure its fiber optic network to recognize priority calls. That could take some time, though, and there's no word on whether Ma Bell's putting its plans to test the new technology on hold until then.

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