Roger Yu, USA TODAY
Wireless coverage is gradually recovering in the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy, but millions of Northeasterners are still grappling with spotty or no cellular connections.
About 19% of cell sites in the area were still not working Thursday. But that was down from 25% a day earlier, according to data from the Federal Communications Commission.
Some cell sites are still underwater, and wireless operators are unable to deliver and connect the generators that are needed to power them. Other sites are not operational because of damages to nearby landline connections that help deliver wireless calls.
"We're seeing both continued improvement in communications networks and also that much work remains to be done to restore service fully," Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement.
Wireless companies say they have brought in generators and deployed cell-towers-on-wheel trucks. But replenishing fuel supplies for generators remains a critical challenge, says FCC Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau Chief David Turetsky. "Restoration efforts in the hardest-hit areas - including New York and New Jersey - continues to be more difficult."
Verizon Wireless, the largest wireless carrier, says 96% of cell sites in the affected areas are working, slightly up from 94% Wednesday.
AT&T declined to provide its number. But the company has agreed with T-Mobile USA to allow their customers' companies to roam on each others' networks without additional charges, for now.
T-Mobile also didn't disclose the overall cell site operation status, but it says about 85% and 80% of cell sites were working in the New York City areas and Staten Island, respectively.
Sprint says 80% of cell sites in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were working as of Thursday afternoon.
With power outages still hampering a wide swath of the Northeast, charging cellphones continues to be a top priority for residents, with many lounging at community centers and at Starbucks to take advantage of power outlets and Wi-Fi. A group of about a dozen people in New York Midtown plugged cellphones and laptops into electrical outlets near a bank ATM.
A community center and a high school in Fair Lawn, N.J., opened doors for people to charge devices.
Marisol Segarra, a Newark, N.J., resident, drove to a Starbucks in the nearby town of Glen Ridge to charge her laptop and sign into an online college course. "If I don't log in today, I'll be dropped,'' she said.
Verizon Wireless set up communication centers on Staten Island, at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J., and at two locations in Toms River, N.J., to provide public access to charging stations and Internet-connected computers. Its retail stores are also letting customers charge devices.
AT&T says its stores are open for charging, too, and it has deployed a fleet of RVs with charging plugs throughout New York's the five boroughs.
Contributing: Kevin McCoy, Rick Hampson, Charisse Jones