79% of Cell Sites in Puerto Rico Still Down, but Roaming Covers More than Half Population

Nearly 79% of cell sites in Puerto Rico remained down today due to Hurricane Maria, but carrier roaming enabled more than half of the its population to be covered, the FCC reported today. It said that about 60% of cell sites were out of service in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“The four major wireless companies have opened up roaming on the islands so that they, collectively, can serve the maximum population of the islands with the current coverage available,” said an FCC outages report, which was based on information submitted to the agency’s Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS). “They are coordinating and prioritizing the recovery of cell sites and placement of temporary assets with the other carriers to maximize the coverage for all subscribers. Satellite Cells on Light Trucks (COLTs) have been deployed in Aguadilla, Arecibo, Cayey, Caomo Sur, Fajardo, Guayama, Manati, Mayaguez Mesa, San German, Vega Baja, and Yauco and Terrestrial Cells on Wheels (COWs)/COLTs in Humacao, Quebradillas, Rio Grande, and Utuado. Approximately 54% of the population is reported to be covered by wireless carriers in Puerto Rico.”

Overall, 78.9% of cell sites in Puerto Rico were down, compared with 81.1% yesterday. The FCC said that 18 of Puerto Rico’s 78 counties had 100% of their cell sites down, down from 23 counties yesterday.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, 60.3% of cell sites were down, the same as yesterday, including all of them in St. John. “Both PSAPs in Puerto Rico are reported as operational,” the report also said. “In the U.S. Virgin Islands, both the St. Croix and the St. Thomas 9-1-1 Call Centers are reported as operational; Phase I and Phase II location information for wireless callers and Automatic Number and Location Information (ANI/ALI) for VoIP callers has been intermittently available.”

Regarding cable and wireline services, the report said that at least four, the same number as yesterday, switches were still “out of service due to either SS7 or toll isolation.”

Two TV stations in Puerto Rico were reported out of service and one was reported on the air. Nine radio stations in Puerto Rico were reported down. As earlier FCC outages reports have said, earlier “informal” reports from Puerto Rico indicated that 22 radio stations were operational, as was one TV station.

In other hurricane outage-related news, the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau today said it was waiving, on its own motion, 911 location accuracy requirements for certain providers in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

“Pursuant to Section 20.18 of the Commission’s rules, Commercial Mobile Radio Services licensees are required to meet certain Phase II location accuracy standards with respect to 911 calls. The Bureau has been advised that, because of hurricane damage and related effects, service providers that utilize triangulation to provide location information for 911 calls may not have a sufficient number of towers in service to permit triangulation at this time in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” the bureau said in a public notice. “Based on these circumstances, pursuant to Section 1.3 of the Commission’s rules, the Bureau on its own motion hereby waives the location requirements of 47 C.F.R. § 20.18(h)(1) for providers affected by Hurricane Maria that utilize a network-based location solution until the earlier of: (1) the date the licensee has restored facilities sufficient to enable transmission of 911 location information to PSAPs pursuant to the obligations stated in Section 20.18(h)(1) of the Commission’s rules; or (2) December 31, 2017 solely insofar as the loss or incapacity of facilities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands would impact their ability to meet the relevant location accuracy compliance standards. In this context, ‘affected’ means those persons or entities that operate facilities in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico or the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands using a network-based location solution. We will monitor restoration status and provide further extensions if restoration activities are not sufficient to provide accurate location information by December 31, 2017.”

Also, the FCC has granted an experimental license for Project Loon to help provide emergency cellular service in Puerto Rico. Project Loon is an initiative of Alphabet, Google, Inc.’s parent company; it uses a network of balloons to provide connectivity to users on the ground. “Now that the experimental license has been approved, it will attempt to initiate service in Puerto Rico,” the FCC noted in a news release. “Project Loon obtained consent agreements to use land mobile radio (LMR) radio spectrum in the 900 MHz band from existing carriers operating within Puerto Rico.”

“More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck, millions of Puerto Ricans are still without access to much-needed communications services,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai observed in a news release.  “That’s why we need to take innovative approaches to help restore connectivity on the island.  Project Loon is one such approach.  It could help provide the people of Puerto Rico with access to cellular service to connect with loved ones and access life-saving information.  I’m glad the FCC was able to grant this experimental license with dispatch and I urge wireless carriers to cooperate with Project Loon to maximize this effort’s chances of success.”

Meanwhile, the FCC yesterday deactivated DIRS for Hurricane Nate. It had activated DIRS a day earlier for a handful of counties in Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi. An outage report released yesterday reported one cell site down in Alabama and none in Florida or Mississippi and no PSAPs impacted. It said 1,589 cable and/or wireline subscribers had lost service.

Meanwhile, the American Red Cross (ARC) has extended its invitation for amateur radio volunteers who have traveled to Puerto Rico to remain there. “Members of the ‘Force of 50’ deployed to Puerto Rico at the beginning of the month, and all are working there as ARC volunteers,” the American Radio Relay League said. —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily