Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), the ranking minority member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee has asked AT&T, Inc., CenturyLink, Inc., Charter Communications, Comcast Corp., Cox Enterprises, Inc., Frontier Communications Corp., Sprint Corp., T-Mobile US, Inc., and Verizon Communications, Inc., to give subscribers rebates for service disruptions due to Hurricane Irma and to refrain from imposing late fees and other penalties on people dealing with the storm’s physical and economic devastation.
In letters sent to the chief executive officers of those companies today, Sen. Nelson said, “As you know, Florida is beginning to come back from the depths of Hurricane Irma, a monster storm that swallowed much of the state, flooding neighborhoods and knocking out power for millions of people. I know your company is hard at work restoring communications service to the citizens of my state as quickly as possible, and I continue to urge you to make restoration of service a top priority.”
The senator from Florida added, “As we begin the recovery process, it’s important that consumers not be saddled with late fees and other unnecessary costs—particularly those without the means to deal with such costs. Therefore, I ask that you provide a 60-day moratorium on late fees, interest accrual, penalties, and any other unnecessary costs, to give people time to recover and get back on their feet. I also would request that your companies provide rebates or credits to your subscribers for any interruption in voice, video, or internet service that occurred due to Hurricane Irma.”
In a statement reacting to Sen. Nelson’s letter, Charter said, “Charter wants to ease concerns of our customers impacted by the storm and assure them Spectrum crews are working around the clock to restore service. We recognize the extraordinary impact Irma has had on the lives of many Floridians and are committed to working with customers to provide appropriate credits. Customers who have suffered damage to their homes will not be charged for any equipment damaged or lost during the storm, and we have also suspended collections in impacted areas. We and our more than 7,500 Florida employees are part of the communities we serve, and we will be supporting recovery efforts in the days and weeks to come.”
In a press release today, AT&T emphasized its efforts to support public safety in its response to Hurricane Irma, including the delivery of charging accessories and car chargers to first responders and “providing hundreds of devices to first responders to support search and rescue.” “AT&T is deploying a fleet of drones to assist with damage assessment and recovery in some of the hardest hit areas including the Florida Keys. And a portable cell site has been deployed on St. Thomas to support recovery efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” it added.
Dish Network Corp. said in a press release that it is “increasing its presence in affected areas and expects to deploy nearly 150 technicians from across the country to assist with local recovery efforts in the coming days. These technicians will restore and install DISH services as neighborhoods are declared safe and power becomes available.” It added that customers may call Dish customer service to “pause DISH service and account” and that Dish will “waive installation fees when a customer is ready to resume service.” It said that this reflects its “standard procedures to assist in the wake of natural disasters.”
Meanwhile, in its latest report on the status of communications services in areas impacted by Hurricane Irma, the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau said today that 53.8% of cell sites are out of service in the U.S. Virgin Islands (“virtually unchanged from 54.7% yesterday”), 13.4% are down in Florida (compared to 18.1% yesterday), 6.3% are down in Puerto Rico (from 10.1% yesterday), 2.2% in Georgia (5.3% yesterday), and 1.2% in Alabama (up from 0.6% yesterday).
There were a total of 21 public safety answering points (PSAPs) reported affected in Florida (down from 29 yesterday), 1 PSAP affected in Georgia (down from 5 yesterday), and 2 PSAPs affected in the Virgin Islands (unchanged from yesterday). As for cable and wireline, the bureau reported, “There are at least 8,258,789 (slightly up from 8,190,407 yesterday) subscribers out of service in the affected areas in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. This includes users who get service from cable system or wireline providers. There are a total of 2,188 (up from 1,040 yesterday) non-mobile switching centers out in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.
“Since there are widespread power outages in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the FCC has received reports that large percentages of consumers are without either cable services or wireline service. Companies are actively working to restoring service,” it added.
The Public Safety Bureau also announced today that, at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, it has deactivated its Disaster Information Reporting System for the counties in Alabama, Georgia, and Puerto Rico for which it had previously asked communications providers to report operational status information in the wake of Hurricane Irma. DIRS remains in effect for all Florida counties and all districts of the U.S. Virgin Islands. —Lynn Stanton, firstname.lastname@example.org