The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allocated $77 million to help rebuild telecoms infrastructure in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands destroyed by Hurricane Maria in September.
Funds will be supplied to mobile operators over the course of seven months through the commission’s Universal Service Fund. Operators can use the monies to aid ongoing efforts to repair infrastructure and restore service to customers across the islands.
Just over 86 per cent of cell sites across Puerto Rico remained out of service as of 4 October, while 66 per cent in the US Virgin Islands were offline.
“This should be a boost for both wireless and wireline providers who are trying to restore connectivity,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai (pictured) said in a statement: “I look forward to taking additional action in the near future to help those in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands recover from this terrible storm. Because what’s needed to help the people of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands right now is action, not a hearing or a report.”
Pai’s mention of hearings and reports is a reference to repeated calls from commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel for the FCC to “step up [and] commit to study what this devastating hurricane season has meant for communications.”
Rosenworcel said the funding pledge “is not enough” in a statement, adding the FCC should investigate “this hurricane season and its impact on communications” in order to be “better prepared” for future extreme weather.
Relief efforts from US operators are well underway, with AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile US all shipping engineers and equipment to the islands.
Progress updates from Sprint COO of Technology Gunther Ottendorfer and T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray on Twitter show widespread destruction, including downed towers and mangled antenna arrays.
— guenther (@guengott68) October 4, 2017
Conditions remain perilous. Recovery will be a long, hard road but our US & Puerto Rico teams are fully committed to relief efforts there. pic.twitter.com/DHtMpJlRHX
— Neville (@NevilleRay) October 3, 2017
A Sprint company representative told Mobile World Live the operator is making “good progress” bringing cell sites back online and is using satellite equipment to help restore voice and text services.
While most towers remain standing, the biggest hurdles are supplying power and fixing backhaul and damaged fibre, the representative said.