Why Are Senators Being Given Satellite Phones?
Potent portent or just typical government spending?
A strange story in the news: more than 50 senators have been given satellite phones. From CBS News:
Amid growing concerns of security risks to members of Congress, more than 50 senators have been issued satellite phones for emergency communication, people familiar with the measures told CBS News. The devices are part of a series of new security measures being offered to senators by the Senate Sergeant at Arms, who took over shortly after the assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
You may wonder why only half the Senate has them. In fact, all 100 Senators have been offered satellite phones, but only about half have accepted them.
It gets more interesting:
Gibson said the phones are a security backstop in the case of an emergency that "takes out communications" in part of America. Federal funding will pay for the satellite airtime needed to utilize the phone devices.
Of course, social media went wild with the news, speculating that it could signal an expected nuclear or cyberattack that would take out much of the power grid.
But it seems if that were the case, there would be larger preparations being taken that would be hard to miss, even if government officials wouldn’t admit to the reason.
Knowing how government spending works, it’s probably more the case that:
Homeland Security is heavily funded
They need to keep spending to retain their budget
Someone saw an excuse to buy a new toy
Do You Need a Satellite Phone?
Satellite phones are extremely useful for people who frequent remote areas where standard cellular coverage isn’t available: folks like hikers, mountaineers, and war journalists.
Alex Jones recently got into the satellite phone game, advertising it as a way to retain your privacy, but this is nonsense. A satellite phone signal is as trackable as any other cellular signal, and in fact may even be more traceable than a regular cellphone.
Satellite phones also have several disadvantages:
They’re very expensive: basic models cost hundreds of dollars.
The plans are expensive, and there are monthly minimums.
The phones themselves are very outdated.
Satellite phones have all the disadvantages of satellite service: they require line of site (so they perform poorly indoors), data speeds are slow, and latency is high.
They’re definitely useful, but are more of a niche product. However, there are some more reasonable alternatives, like the Garmin inReach, though it still requires a monthly fee. A good consumer-level alternative is the Emergency SOS feature in the iPhone 14, which is currently free to use.