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Telecoms' 3G Network Shutdowns Could Impact PA Emergency Calls

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Friday, January 14, 2022   

Mobile carriers are starting to decommission their 3G cellular networks this year, some as soon as next month.

Pennsylvania officials are reminding people with older-model cell phones to prepare for how this might affect service. Decommissioning older networks helps free up infrastructure to support more advanced services, like 5G, but it may result in some phones being unable to make calls or send text messages.

Jeff Boyle, deputy director of 911 for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, said you are likely to be notified by your carrier if it affects you, but it is smart to plan ahead in case of an emergency.

"If your phone is more than a few years old, you may need to upgrade your device to avoid losing service," Boyle explained. "And calling 911 is often the quickest way for somebody to access emergency services, so plan now so that you don't lose connectivity, including the ability to call 911."

AT&T said it will finish shutting down its 3G network by February, with Verizon and T-Mobile finalizing by year's end. The move may also affect medical alert devices and home security systems. Lower-income residents whose phones may no longer be supported can apply for help through the FCC's Lifeline program.

Lt. Adam Reed, communications office director for the Pennsylvania State Police, said in an emergency, dispatchers and first responders rely on the 911 system to gather crucial information, including location, which means 3G network phones may hinder the ability to provide assistance quickly.

"Whether it's a vehicle crash, a criminal act in progress or a medical emergency, seconds count when it comes to calling 911," Reed emphasized. "First responders will go wherever we need to save lives and help wherever we can, but again, we need to know where you are and what the emergency is."

Groups serving people experiencing homelessness or domestic violence survivors sometimes provide clients with older phones with no service plan but are still capable of making emergency calls. Users of such phones should check with their organization to discuss options.


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