Cell Site Outages Up Slightly Today in Areas Affected by Harvey

More than half of the cell sites are down in three counties in Texas—Aransas, Calhoun, and Refugio—while across all 55 counties in Texas and Louisiana for which the FCC has activated its Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) in response to Hurricane Harvey, now Tropical Storm Harvey, 4.7% of cell sites are suffering outages, up from 4.1% yesterday, the FCC said today in a status report current as of 11 a.m.

The majority of counties covered by the DIRS activation had no cell site outages. In Louisiana, only Plaquemines Parish had any cell site outages, with 3 of 48 sites (6.3%) down. In Texas, in addition to Aransas (94.7% down), Calhoun (74.1%), and Refugio (84.6%), other cell site outages were reported for 23 counties, ranging from 0.3% of cell sites out to roughly 35% out in both Goliad and Jefferson counties and 43.1% in San Patricio County. Also, as of this morning, the FCC said that it had received reports that 16 public safety answering points (PSAPs) remained affected by the storm system, all in Texas.

That was a net decrease of one affected PSAP compared to yesterday. The lone Louisiana PSAP affected as of yesterday, in Cameron Parish, is now fully functional, as are PSAPs in Ingleside, Portland, Refugio County, Richmond, and Victoria, Texas. However, five newly affected PSAPs have been added to the list:  PSAPs in Harris County, Jackson County, and Kemah County, Texas, which are being re-routed without ALI (automatic location identification), and PSAPs in Gonzales County and Port Lavaca, Texas, which are being re-routed with ALI.

Regarding cable and wireline service, the FCC said, “There are at least 189,487 subscribers (up from at least 148,565 yesterday) out of service in the affected area. This includes users who get service from cable system or wireline providers. There are 19 (up from 11 yesterday) non-mobile switching centers out of service and 22 (up from 21 yesterday) switching centers on back-up power.”

It also said that nine broadcast radio stations are out of service, which is the same number as yesterday, although KJOJ-FM has been restored to service and KMKS has gone out of service since yesterday. No TV stations are reported as out of service, the FCC said.

In a statement, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said, “Over the last three days, the Federal Communications Commission has been working in close coordination with the Department of Homeland Security to monitor the status of communications networks in the areas affected by Tropical Storm Harvey and to support relief and restoration efforts.”

Chairman Pai noted, “To date, the storm has most severely impacted communications networks near where Harvey made landfall. In Aransas, Calhoun, and Refugio Counties, for instance, most wireless cell sites are currently out of operation. We are also keeping close tabs on the effect that widespread flooding could have on communications networks in Harris County and surrounding areas in the hours and days to come.”

The Chairman said that he has spoken with staff from the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau and Enforcement Bureau, “including field agents who have been traveling throughout the storm zone, to thank them for their efforts. I am also speaking with representatives from network operators in the affected areas to get first-hand assessments of the situation and make clear that the FCC stands ready to help however we can.”

He added, “The worst of tragedies brings out the best in people. In Harvey’s wake, first responders and everyday citizens have heroically stepped up to the plate to help their fellow Americans. Broadcasters and other news outlets have also played a critical role in conveying emergency information, and in some cases, even coordinating live, on-air rescues. Everyone who is pitching in deserves our gratitude and support.  We’re all in this together.”

In a statement issued today, Verizon Communications, Inc., said, “Verizon’s network continues to withstand the severity of the storm’s impact, with over 98% of our sites in service. As anticipated, flood waters are impacting the entire area and commercial power is out in many places throughout Texas, but back-up generators are running and we are on standby to refuel generators to ensure facilities continue operating. Our network teams are staffing the 24×7 wireless command center, assessing damage and mobilizing equipment and people needed for repairs. We are in contact with federal, state and local emergency management teams and are coordinating communication needs and efforts with them.”

“To support the community further, Verizon is offering support to impacted residents of Texas by offering data, text and voice relief to postpaid customers and an extra 3GB of free data to prepaid customers in South Texas counties impacted by the hurricane 8/26-9/8. In the coming days, Verizon will be deploying its Wireless Emergency Communication Centers which are generator-powered mobile units on tractor trailers that have device charging and computer workstations, and wireless phones, tablets and other devices to contact friends, family and other important contacts over the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network,” it added.

AT&T, Inc., said yesterday that beginning “Aug. 26, 2017, and running through at least Sept. 1, 2017, we will issue credits to AT&T wireless customers in impacted areas for additional data, voice and text charges, and AT&T PREPAID for additional voice and text charges.”

It added, “Currently, credits will be issued to customers with billing zip codes in the following counties—Aransas, Austin, Bee, Calhoun, Chambers, Colorado, Brazoria, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Gonzales, Harris, Jackson, Jefferson, Jim Wells, Karnes, Kleberg, Lavaca, Liberty, Live Oak, Matagorda, Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio, Victoria, Wailer, Wharton, and Wilson.”

Today, AT&T added that from “Aug. 28, 2017, and running through at least Sept. 3, 2017, we will also issue credits to AT&T wireless and AT&T PREPAID customers in impacted parts of Louisiana. Credits will apply for customers with billing zip codes in Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jefferson Davis and Vermilion parishes.”

Sprint has also said that from Aug. 26 through Sept. 1 it will “waive casual call and text fees for Sprint, Boost and Virgin Mobile customers in the impacted areas of Texas and Louisiana.” T-Mobile announced last Friday, ahead of landfall by the hurricane, that it would not charge customers, including prepaid customers, “to call or text from impacted areas of Texas and Louisiana” (TR Daily, Aug. 25). Today, it announced that is also offering unlimited data to all T-Mobile and Metro PCS customers affected by Harvey. —Lynn Stanton, lynn.stanton@wolterskluwer.com