With how many hands touch the data in transit, it’s completely reasonable to question how these companies deliver your information from point A to point B and how that information is protected in transit.
The Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, is the government agency responsible for holding these companies accountable for managing the internet, as well as amateur radio. Currently, the FCC offers partial enforcement of a free and open internet. There has been much debate over implementing a more sweeping net neutrality, which would treat internet traffic as an essential utility like electricity and not allow any manipulation of the traffic. But further regulation has cons as well, and could cause even more problems.
So as it stands, the internet is not a “neutral” place. In order to send and receive data from the websites you visit, or send messages via cell towers or internet to friends/family, your data must pass through software systems owned by big tech companies like AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, Google, and others. In addition, if you are using a social network like Facebook or Twitter, they have their own software that controls how messages are routed.
Amateur radio is not going to replace a social network anytime soon (interesting idea) – but amateur radio operators at least have the ability to communicate without dependence on Internet Service Providers or social media networks.
Communications systems are also vulnerable to hacking. When hackers are able to gain access and run malicious code like the hackers who successfully took out the power grid in the Ukraine in 2016 with malware known as BlackEnergy, which then caused a ripple effect of transportation and communication failures.
And sometimes it’s just good old fashioned incompetence and human error that causes massive communications outages. An innocent employee could make a mistake that could cause a blackout, as occurred in the Northeast black out 2003 when a software bug in the alarm system control room of FirstEnergy in Ohio caused a 3,500 megawatt power surge to wipe out communications from the Midwest into Canada almost completely for several hours.
More recently in November of 2020, Amazon Web Services suffered a major outage that affected 23 geographic regions for hours due to unintentional software issues.
There are also phenomena like mass call events, or MCEs, when an extraordinarily high volume of telephone calls are attempted simultaneously in the same area, that can overwhelm the network software and lead to complete or partial cellular outages.
If you had been in New York City during the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, or in Boston during the Boston Marathon in 2013, you would have likely found it impossible to use a cell phone to contact anyone. So many individuals were trying to use their phones simultaneously, that the networks failed. That’s when volunteers, First Responders, police departments, fire and EMS all moved to Ultra High Frequency (UHF) and Very High Frequency (VHF) channels, such as those used in amateur radio, to coordinate emergency response efforts.