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3G shutdown stunts Bay-area social program, could interfere with home security systems

The shutdown of 3G networks is having a wide-range of impacts, including hindering a program which provides free cell phones to seniors and domestic abuse victims.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Cellphone carriers are shutting down 3G networks in order to make way for high-speed 5G.

On Tuesday, AT&T shut down its 3G network. In March, T-Mobile will do the same, followed by Verizon in December.  

This means 3G compatible phones will no longer connect to cell towers and will receive no signal. They can't even be used to call 9-1-1. 

The change is already impacting one local social services organization that relies heavily on 3G compatible devices which are donated by the public.

Director of Programs and Accountability for the Area Agency on Aging Pasco-Pinellas Kristina Jalazo told 10 Tampa Bay, "Honestly, we were devastated. I mean, we know that technology is moving to new horizons, but we were hoping that our clients would still be able to use at least the 9-1-1 feature."

While just a small fraction of cell phone users across the country are still using 3G devices, Jalazo says the early model phones are key to one of the group's programs which provides free phones to seniors and victims of domestic violence. 

"Safety phones assist seniors who live in fear, are isolated, lack local family or community support, have health/medical concerns, or live in rural areas," Jalazo said. "The phones are crucial for some seniors to be able to access 911 in case of emergencies."

All of the cell phones are donated and Jalazo says the vast majority are early model 3G compatible phones. But now, the group has stopped giving those out. 

"It's going to have a huge effect on our clients," Jalazo said. "Last year we gave out 75 safety cell phones. This year we've only been able to get out seven." 

In additional to early model phones, the 3G shutdown will impact many home security systems.

Owner of Tampa-based 'Expert Security Professionals' Thomas Hottle estimates about a quarter of all home security owners in the area have been or will be impacted by the shutdown. 

"Any of the burglar alarms or fire alarms that are on a radio to where it hits a cell tower, basically those are all going away," Hottle said.

He says this likely applies to anyone who had their security system installed beyond the last five years.

"When your alarm goes off, it sends a signal and it basically picks up a cell phone call out to the monitoring center and says the alarm is going off," Hottle explained. "And if you haven’t upgraded your radio, it’s going to be trying to make that phone call and it’s not going to happen. So the central station is not going to get your signal and the police or fire department are not going to get dispatched to you."

In anticipation of the 3G rollout, his company has been gradually upgrading its customers' devices over the last year, for free. Hottle suggests calling your security provider to see if you're impacted, or test it out yourself.

"No matter what, every few months, check your system," Hottle said. "When you come home from work, let it go off and let the monitoring center call you."

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The Area Agency on Aging Pasco-Pinellas is looking for donations of 4G or 5G compatible phones. It says it's also looking for donations and volunteers. 

"We are constantly looking for volunteers who can help us make sure the phones are in working condition, that there is a compatible charger, and that the phone has been reset to the factory settings," Jalazo said. "The phones then get sanitized and packaged for distribution."

To volunteer or donate a phone, you can reach out to Sierra Pennington at 727-570-9696 x 259. For donations to the agency, click here.

  

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