The road to the recovery of cellular service facilities in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico continues long and the progress is slow. More than 75 percent of the cell sites are out of service. A dozen of of the 78 counties have 100 percent of their cell sites out of service. However, carriers have gotten creative in their efforts to push connectivity to everyone on the island.
“The four major wireless companies have opened up roaming on the islands so that they, collectively, can serve the maximum population of the islands with the current coverage available,” the FCC said. “They are coordinating and prioritizing the recovery of cell sites and placement of temporary assets with the other carriers to maximize the coverage for all subscribers.”
Carriers are deploying satellite Cells on Light Trucks (COLTs) have been in Aguadilla, Arecibo, Cayey, Caomo Sur, Fajardo, Guayama, Manati, Mayaguez Mesa, San German, Vega Baja, and Yauco. Terrestrial Cells on Wheels (COWs)/COLTs have been placed in Humacao, Quebradillas, Rio Grande, and Utuado. Such deployments have been integral to getting service to around 61 percent of the population was reported to be covered by the wireless carriers in Puerto Rico.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. Virgin Islands 55.4 percent of cell sites are out of service, and 88.9 percent of cell sites in St. John are out of service. However, nearly 90 percent of the population was reported to be covered by the wireless carriers in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In response to the destruction of communications networks wreaked by Hurricane Maria, the FCC moved yesterday to provide up to $76.9 million to help restore service in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“Going forward, service providers will have greater flexibility in how they use universal service funding to restore and rebuild their networks,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “This should be a boost for both wireless and wireline providers who are trying to restore connectivity.”
The FCC unanimously voted to immediately provide carriers with up to seven-months’ worth of support from the FCC’s Universal Service Fund, which helps lower the cost of deploying service in areas that are costly to serve. Any funds advanced under today’s action can be used to repair telecommunications infrastructure and restore service to customers across the islands.
“The destruction is truly unimaginable, but as regulators we have a responsibility in times of emergency to act quickly to restore vital communications services,” said FCC Comm. Mignon Clyburn. “Despite the heartbreak and loss, I am grateful for the fearless individuals who have risked their lives to help those in need.”
Maria’s direct hit of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Sept. 20 left the vast majority of cell sites out of service, and nearly all consumers without either cable or wireline services. Even as of yesterday, approximately 88 percent of cell sites were out of service in Puerto Rico and 67 percent in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The FCC’s actions are intended to enable carriers to restore essential communications services as quickly as possible. FCC staff will help coordinate network repair activities to ensure that the greatest coverage is available to the most people.