Many cell phone calls failed to get through, while some land lines were briefly spotty. And in the wake of Tuesday’s quake, many people were left trying to determine how they should communicate when the next one hits.

Cell phone providers acknowledged brief disruptions in service, but say their systems aren’t designed to accommodate the dramatic increases in call volume that occurred in the minutes after Tuesday’s 8:04 p.m. Alum Rock quake.

In a bigger disaster, cell phone companies say, people shouldn’t count on being able to use their cell phones immediately.

Yet regulatory advocates question if enough attention is being paid to whether the companies are putting enough resources into the network capacity needed when a disaster strikes.

For some, the solution was simple: text messaging.

For others, like 33-year-old Yvette Ostil of San Jose, the refrain was the same for what phone companies said was 30 minutes to an hour after the earthquake: “We kept trying to call my family and all the lines were busy.”

The dilemma isn’t a new one. During the Minnesota bridge collapse earlier this year, some people on the scene said they couldn’t get a connection – even though cell phone carriers said they tried to move quickly to meet the increased demand.

But Regina Costa, telecommunications research director for The Utility Reform Network (TURN) in San Francisco, said little regulatory attention has been paid to how the phone companies are handling network capacity.
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