FCC Looks to Towercos For Aid in PR and USVI

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If all goes as planned, the FCC will send personnel to Puerto Rico today to assist its government in getting communications networks up and running again. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said on Tuesday he’s directed agency staff to contact the major towercos — American Tower, Crown Castle and SBA  — to see how the process can be expedited. “Our primary focus has to be on recovery,” said Pai.

Chris Anderson of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau delivered a summary of the Commission’s disaster preparation and relief efforts. “For the first time in U.S. history, three storms of Category 4 or stronger hit the country,” he said. The FCC deployed teams to Texas, Florida, Alabama and Georgia before Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit and will deploy additional teams to PR and the VI to conduct assessments.

At Harvey’s worst, only 4.7 percent of the affected cell tower sites were not working in Texas. That dropped to two percent within seven days. Yet after Hurricane Maria slammed into PR, more than 90 percent still aren’t working, according to the FCC. Asked about the difference, Anderson said it’s been a “tremendous logistical challenge to get into Puerto Rico” as well as to help coordinate relief flights to understand the extent of the problems. He cited the difficulty in getting a plane with technicians from wireless carriers into the territory.  

“The damage to infrastructure in Puerto Rico cannot be overstated,” said Anderson.  A damaged San Juan airport, for instance, hinders the ability to receive a plane, offload cargo and store it securely.

Pai, who traveled to Texas and Florida, plans to go to PR and VI, when appropriate. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel suggested the FCC hold field hearings in Texas, Florida and PR to learn about what it can do better in such disasters as it did after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. “I hope this agency has the guts to do this.” Her colleague Commissioner Mignon Clyburn agreed, adding, “We need a plan to fix the vulnerabilities in the communications we are finding, including restoration so communities are not permanently relegated to the wrong side of the digital divide.”

Pai said the Commission is focused on restoration and recovery efforts and he’s personally been involved in facilitating communications for Maria, beginning over the weekend and continuing through yesterday. “With some distance we can have that discussion.”

September 27, 2017              

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