Discontinuation of 3G service could impact calls for help in emergency situations

MARYLAND – Cell phone service is something many of us take for granted. But, it will no longer be available to Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile customers who rely on 3G service.

It’s a matter of inconvenience and an the extra cost of upgrading devices for some. But for others, it’s a real and potentially dangerous issue. “The 3G service doesn’t impact our ability to provide 911 services. It impacts the people being able to contact us,” said David Shipley, Director of Wicomico County’s Department of Emergency Services.

No 3G service means no ability to call for help for those with older devices that can’t carry 4G or 5G signals. Worcester County Sheriff Matt Crisafulli says that could lead to situations where some don’t have a quick and reliable way to call 911. “It puts them in extreme danger. Every resident should have access to be able to reach out to 911, whether that’s landline service or through cell service,” he said.

Emergency services officials and law enforcement are urging people still using 3G service to upgrade as soon as they can, if possible. “It’s crucial that our residents have up to date cell service because in today’s world, most people are walking around with a cell phone. Emergencies can happen anywhere,” said Sheriff Crisafulli.

Shipley says people should also prepare to find another way to call for help in an emergency situation. “Leave the location that they’re at. Go to a fire station, go to a convenience store that would be open, go anywhere where people are. Go to a neighbor,” he said.

The discontinuation of 3G also creates a potentially harmful situation for those experiencing homelessness or who are victims of domestic violence. Older, donated devices are often provided through organizations to those in need.

Wicomico County’s Department of Emergency Services is now working on addressing that. “There is some concern that they will not be able to call 911,” said Shipley. “If they know ahead of time it’s coming, hopefully we can make some efforts to replace the older phones that they have.”

The discontinuation of 3G won’t just impact cell phone service. The Maryalnd Department of Emergency Management says medical alert devices, tablets, smart watches, and home security systems could also be affected. Low income individuals can apply for service through the federal Lifeline Program by clicking here.

The FCC says AT&T will be the first to discontinue 3G in February. T-Mobile will end 3G service between March and July, and Verizon is set to scrap 3G at the end of 2022.

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