At midnight on New Year’s, texting stopped. At least on US Cellular. For two hours, nothing would go through in either direction on various phones, various towers.
There’s a small possibility the carrier had millennium problems 8 years later than expected, but I’m guessing the system got overloaded with congratulatory messages, such as my own broadcast message of “happy fuckimng [sic] new years!” This on a night with no electric outages, no disasters, natural or otherwise, no riots and no terrorist attacks.
(I hate to even mention that like I’m raising the specter of terrorism to make this problem seem bigger than it is, a la Giuliani, but you would have thought it anyway.)
I think it’s a problem when your infrastructure is all up and running, and you can’t handle an infusion of messages. Or calls, or any content. There’s not a chance in hell that our cell-phone systems could be of any use to us in the case of a bigger, more important event. The New Year’s midnight crowd is a small subset of the population, limited in age and desire to deal with amateur night just to watch a countdown. When 100% of the population is trying to call or text, with infrastructure that may be inoperable, NOTHING is going to get through.
Police, fire and emergency management have radios to rely on, even if their Nextels get knocked out. Some of us have ham radios, thank god. But most of us have only cell phones (unless you’re in your home with a working phone on the wall), and broad user-agreement language that forces us to accept crappy service shouldn’t be an excuse for companies to skimp on the reliability and spare capacity of their cell systems.