More than 90% of cell sites remained out of service today in Puerto Rico, while 67% remained down in the U.S. Virgin Islands due to Hurricane Maria, the FCC reported today. “Overall, 90.3% (slightly down from 91.1% yesterday) of cell sites are out of service. All counties in Puerto Rico have greater than 75% of their cell sites out of service. 29 (down from 31 yesterday) out of the 78 counties in Puerto Rico have 100% of their cell sites out of service,” the FCC said in an outages report that uses data submitted to the Commission’s Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS). “Overall, 67.0% (slightly up from 66.0% yesterday) of cell sites are out of service. 100% (up from 66.7% yesterday) of cell sites in St. John are now out of service,” the report said of the Virgin Islands.
There was no change today concerning the operational status of public safety answering points in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. “The two PSAPs in Puerto Rico are currently functioning normally according to the primary service provider,” the report said. “In the U.S. Virgin Islands, the St. Croix 9-1-1 Call Center has been reported as completely down. FEMA has reported significant damage to the building. The St. Thomas 9-1-1 Call Center is unable to retrieve Phase I and Phase II location information for wireless callers and ANI/ALI for VoIP Callers.”
The report still did not provide specific data on cable and wireline system outages, but it said that 14 switches, down from 18 yesterday, were “out of service due to either SS7 or toll isolation.” The report also said that two TV stations in Puerto Rico reported being out of service, while another said it was on the air, and it said that nine radio stations in Puerto Rico said they were down. It said that “informal reports” indicated that one TV station and 22 radio stations were on the air in Puerto Rico.
Also today, the Policy and Licensing Division of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau granted, on its own motion, “a waiver of Section 90.20(d)(28)1 of the Commission’s rules to facilitate use of two nationwide interoperability channels (151.1375 MHz and 154.4525 MHz) in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico) and the United States Virgin Islands (USVI). A waiver is necessary because Section 90.20(d)(28) does not authorize public safety use of the designated frequencies in Puerto Rico and the USVI. For the reasons discussed herein, we temporarily waive this limitation to allow public safety agencies to use these frequencies in support of hurricane response and recovery activities[.]”
Meanwhile, AT&T, Inc., described in a blog posting the difficulty of restoring service in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, compared to the challenges faced after hurricanes Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida.
“The impact of Maria on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is different on so many fronts,” said Joan Marsh, AT&T’s executive vice president-regulatory & state external affairs. “First, and importantly, they are islands. Although we were able to pre-stage fuel, we could not pre-stage recovery assets in fear that they would be lost. And getting recovery assets to the islands is a huge challenge given the damage sustained at the airports and the need, particularly on Puerto Rico, to give priority access to life-sustaining supplies, including food, water and fuel. We were able to land four commercial planes on Puerto Rico within days to dispatch crews, generators and smaller equipment, but getting our Satellite/Cell Trucks to the islands has been a huge challenge. Air options are extremely limited due to the size of the plane needed to transport a 14,000-pound truck. Sea options are available, but they are slower. We currently have three Satellite trucks on a FEMA barge due to land next week and three more on the way this morning. And we sent 50 satellite phones for use by the Puerto Rican government in areas where there is no cell service.”
Ms. Marsh continued, “Puerto Rico is also challenged because the storm blew almost all of the island’s wired infrastructure to the ground – electric cable and fiber feeder alike. Generators are short term solutions to an electric outage, but are challenging to manage for months. We also learned that as community clean-up efforts started, fiber feeder cable supplying backhaul were prone to being cut, creating new outages. In many areas, the fiber backhaul is simply gone. And a generator we had powering a large coverage site on St. Croix was stolen, handing the community a huge set back. But thanks to an active local community, a generator was supplied to restore power to the site while the original generator was recovered by the FBI.
“We will continue our efforts to bring full communications back to our customers in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and we will stand beside them as they start to rebuild,” Ms. Marsha added. “But Maria created restoration challenges unlike those we’ve seen in other storms and, in the aftermath, there will be lessons for all of us to learn on restoration and recovery.”- Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org