FCC Chairman Ajit Pai today criticized efforts by wireless carriers to restore service in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Michael and said he has asked the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to investigate the situation.
“Even though efforts to restore communications services have been going well in most of the areas affected by Hurricane Michael, the slow progress in restoring wireless service in areas close to where the hurricane made landfall is completely unacceptable,” Mr. Pai said in a statement. “While the FCC has been in regular contact with companies serving the affected areas, I’m concerned that their actions on the ground aren’t matching the urgency that we have conveyed during those conversations. I am therefore joining [Florida] Governor [Rick] Scott [R.] in calling on wireless carriers to waive the bills of Floridians in these affected areas for the month of October and to allow them to change carriers without penalty. These carriers also need to immediately disclose publicly to Floridians how they will quickly restore service. In addition, I have directed our Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau to promptly initiate an investigation into this matter.”
The FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) report released today said that as of 11 a.m., 4.4% of cell sites in the 110-county hurricane-impacted area of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama were down, compared to 5.2% yesterday. The totals for each state were 12.7% in Florida, 0.4% in Georgia, and 0.3% in Alabama.
But in Bay County, Fla., which includes Mexico Beach, near where the hurricane made landfall last Wednesday, 61.5% of cell sites remained down today – by far the most of any county in the state. Gulf County was second at 43.5%.
In response to Mr. Pai’s criticism, CTIA said, “Wireless carriers are taking significant steps to restore their networks in the face of this unprecedented Hurricane. From October 11 to October 14, the percentage of cell sites in service rose to 94% in the affected area, and carriers are working around the clock to finish restoring communications as quickly as possible.
“We began preparing for this storm before it arrived and our work continues today,” said AT&T, Inc. “Because of these efforts, we were able to keep our customers, including first responders, connected during and after the storm in many areas. In addition, we deployed 15 large scale portable cell sites to the most storm damaged areas to provide connectivity. Before the storm hit we announced and implemented credits for our customers. Beginning on October 10 credits have been given to customers in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Liberty, Taylor and Wakulla counties. We plan to continue extending these credits through October 21st, and will continue as conditions require. Our crews continue working day and night to ensure continuing connectivity for the affected areas.”
Ronan Dunne, executive vice president and group president of Verizon Wireless, said that each of its customers in Bay and Gulf counties “will be automatically credited for 3 months of mobile service for each line. This free service is for both consumer and business accounts.”
“Verizon is 100% focused on repairing our network in the Florida Panhandle. We are making progress every hour, and we expect that trend to continue at a rapid pace. We won’t rest until service is completely restored,” Mr. Dunne said.
T-Mobile US, Inc., and Sprint Corp. did not provide immediate comment.
Today’s FCC DIRS report also said that no public safety answering points (PSAPs) were reported down this morning, three had calls being rerouted with ALI (automatic location identification), and one had calls being rerouted with no ALI.
As for cable and wireline system outages, 138,583 subscribers had no service in Florida, 46,393 had no service in Georgia, and 735 had no service in Alabama.
Twenty-eight TV stations were reported operational, one was reported out of service. The FCC said that 101 FM radio stations were reported operational, 13 were reported out of service, and one was reported down with programming being sent to another station. Twenty-two AM radio stations were reported operational, while three were reported out of service. —Paul Kirby, email@example.com