New York City cuts off cell phone service in Holland, Lincoln, Midtown and Battery tunnels

Immediately after the London bombings on 7 July, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Metropolitan Transit Authority cut power to the microcells in the Holland, Lincoln, Midtown and Battery tunnels which provide Verizon Wireless cellular phone users with mobile phone service.

Service was restored this afternoon to the Midtown and Battery tunnels, but the most heavily traveled, the Holland and Midtown tunnels, remain without service.

Verizon Wireless is the only vendor with microcells in the tunnels. The service had never been cut off before, not even after 9/11.

Apparently the shutoff in the Midtown and Battery tunnels was a result of miscommunication between local agencies. The Metropolitan Transit Authority reported that the New York Police Department asked for service to be shut off, and the NYPD denied making any such request to the MTA.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed skepticism that the shutoff made sense. “The MTA decided to do it. I don’t know whether it makes the most sense. I don’t know how long they’re going to keep it off,’ said Bloomberg.

The Port Authority has said that service in the Holland and Lincoln tunnels will remain off “until further notice.’

The concern is over the possibility of a bomb being detonated remotely by telephone call to a cellular phone wired to such a bomb. Critics contend that such bombs can also be detonated by the cellular phone’s alarm clock function in the event of a service interruption, or simply by a timer.

You know, I think I saw that bomb triggered by a cell phone in a movie somewhere. I am beginning to suspect officials have been watching too many movies or are just overly paranoid. This so-called security measure benefits no one, mitigates no risk, and actually makes matters worse, as now drivers in the tunnels cannot phone for help in the event of an actual emergency.

Update 12 July: BBC News has now picked up this story.