Hurricane Maria wipes out cellular in Puerto Rico

22 SEP 2017

Cellular service across Puerto Rico was nearly completely wiped out after the island was hit by Hurricane Maria earlier this week.

According to a status report from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 95 per cent of cell sites across Puerto Rico – or 1,703 out of 1,789 on the island – are out of service. In 48 of the island’s 78 counties 100 per cent of sites are down, the FCC added.

Not a single county within the country was spared, with more than 75 per cent of sites down across every county on the island.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the storm’s impact on communications networks “catastrophic”.

“The FCC is proactively reaching out to communications providers in Puerto Rico to gather additional information about the situation on the ground and find out if there is anything that the Commission can do to assist with restoration efforts,” he said in a statement.

“We are also working closely with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and providing all requested support. Unfortunately, getting Puerto Rico’s communications networks up and running will be a challenging process, particularly given the power outages throughout the island. But the FCC stands ready to do whatever we can to help with this task.”

Operators rally
All four US operators have offered to waive call, text, and data fees for the few on the island who can connect. The operators are also pushing ahead with the task of restoring services.

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure posted a photo of the devastated island on Twitter, noting the operator is “working hard to contact each one of our Sprint partners”.

In his own Twitter post, T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said the operator is “working as fast as we can to recover”. Work is already underway in a number of areas and will soon begin in others, he said.

T-Mobile issued a statement noting it is working with other mobile operators to restore service “as soon as possible”. The operator said “multiple aircraft full of supplies”, including vehicles, generators, and T-Mobile engineers, will be sent to Puerto Rico once conditions allow. T-Mobile said it is currently facing a number of challenges in its recovery efforts, including the lack of power, flooding, severed fibre connections and a limited ability to send additional resources to the island.

Hurricane Maria marks the third powerful storm operators have had to respond to since late August.

The first, Hurricane Harvey, dumped nearly four feet of rain on the US state of Texas. However, with the exception of a handful of areas, the FCC reported at the time 95 per cent of cell sites in impacted areas remained online. The second storm, Hurricane Irma, slammed into Puerto Rico and Florida. A total of 19 counties in Puerto Rico lost cell service from more than 20 per cent of sites in the storm. One Florida county lost more than 80 per cent of cell sites, while a total of five counties had more than 50 per cent of cell sites out of service immediately after the storm, according to FCC reports.

Author

Diana Goovaerts

Diana joins Mobile World Live as its new US Editor, reporting on infrastructure and spectrum rollouts, regulatory issues, and other carrier news from the US market. Diana comes to GSMA from her former role as Editor of Wireless Week and...

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