76% of Cell Sites in Puerto Rico Down, But 60% of Population Covered by Roaming

About 76% of cell sites in Puerto Rico remained down today due to Hurricane Maria, but about 60% of the population was covered by cellphone service due to roaming, the FCC said in an outages report. Overall, 76.1% of cell sites in Puerto Rico were down, compared with 77.6% yesterday. But it said about 60% of Puerto Rico’s population, up from 54%, were covered due to roaming agreements by the four largest providers.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, 55.4% of cell sites were down, compared with 54.5% yesterday, including all of cell sites in St. John.  “Approximately 79% (same as yesterday) of the population is reported to be covered by wireless carriers in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” the FCC said.

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

There were no changes reported today in the operational status of public safety answering points in Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands. There were also no changes reported in the operational status of TV and radio stations in Puerto Rico. In a blog posting today, Joan Marsh, executive vice president–regulatory and state external affairs for AT&T, Inc., said the carrier has made progress restoring service in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, but she said that it still faces challenges.

“We are currently connecting more than 60% of the population in Puerto Rico, and handling more than 9 million calls and 5.5 million texts a day over our network.  We have cell tower coverage in parts of Bayamon, Caguas, Carolina, Catano, Dorado, Guaynabo, and San Juan and we are working to restore key transport facilities for other areas,” Ms. Marsh said. “Because of significant damage to our fiber backhaul network, we are providing coverage via portable cell towers connected to satellite backhaul in areas with little or no tower coverage.  This is a temporary fix while we work on re-laying and re-splicing hundreds of miles of fiber.  Through temporary cell sites (or satellite cells on light trucks known as SatCOLTs), we are currently connecting several cities, including Isabela, Rincon Pueblo, Humacao, Rio Grande, Ponce Cursillo, Quebradillas, Arecibo, Manati, Yauco, Cayey, Mayaguez Mesa, San German, Fajardo, Guayama and Vega Baja.

“In addition to temporary cell sites, we have also deployed the entire array of recovery assets:  support trucks, emergency communications vehicles (ECVs), a mobile command trailer and generators with the necessary fuel to power our wireless and wireline equipment as the commercial power outages continue,” Ms. Marsh added. “We know that information is also an essential commodity in a storm, so we created a website that helps folks stateside locate family members and friends in Puerto Rico by enabling anyone, regardless of carrier, to register the cell phone number of someone who is an AT&T wireless customer in Puerto Rico.  When the AT&T customer’s device hits our network in Puerto Rico, they will get a text telling them that their loved ones tried to call.  Thousands of people have signed up and more than 67% of them have been notified of restored connectivity for family and friends.

We have also been able to connect our customers through innovative new wireless roaming agreements. For example, we are working with a company called Vanu that currently has three satellite-based cell sites up and running in Puerto Rico and 30 more arrived yesterday. Nine cell sites also arrived yesterday in the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Ms. Marsh also said that in the Virgin Islands, AT&T is “making steady progress in deploying equipment and restoring services, and we are now connecting nearly 80% of the population.  The Blue Mountain microwave site in St. Croix was restored last week and the cellular radios at the site will be completed this weekend providing incremental coverage on the island.  Teams are on the islands working to repair cell sites and refueling generators.  We have a temporary cell site on air on St. Thomas. In addition, we are planning to deploy a temporary cell site to St. John to provide coverage in the Bordeaux area as soon as transportation allows.”

Regarding disrupted communications from wildfires in California, she said AT&T has “been able to move mobile restoration assets quickly into place in areas where the fire has destroyed either towers or the fiber backhaul network necessary for connectivity and we are working hard to keep California Emergency Services, first responders and our customers connected.” —Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily