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WASHINGTON — On Thursday, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. urged the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate communication failures across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

“The communications network failures in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were deeply detrimental to their residents, and may have even caused additional deaths in Puerto Rico,” Rep. Pallone wrote to GAO. He cited Free Press Action’s report Connecting the Dots for highlighting the need for a “critical examination of the causes of the communications failures and efforts to restore service following the hurricane.”

Free Press Action Senior Director of Strategy and Engagement and coauthor of the report Joseph Torres made the following statement:   

“We’re thankful that Representative Pallone has called on the GAO to study how the FCC responded to the devastating impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2017. The ability to communicate is a life-and-death issue during and after a disaster. In Puerto Rico, the breakdown of communications contributed to the historic death toll.  

“For nearly two years we’ve called on the FCC to investigate the roots of the communication crisis in Puerto Rico and Chairman Ajit Pai has refused to do so. This kind of investigation could lead to the development of life-saving policies. This is crucial since storms like Maria — and more recently, Dorian — are becoming the norm due to climate change.

“A study is also critical to understanding how telecom companies spent federal funding they received to restore service. And now that the Commission has moved forward with granting these companies additional funding, we echo the concerns FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel expressed last week during a Commission meeting when she said, ‘it’s apparent the FCC does not have a clear picture of where those funds were spent and what the current state of communications facilities looks like on the ground.’

“While we’re thankful for Representative Pallone’s letter, we also urge the chairman to ask Chairman Pai about the agency’s response to Hurricane Maria and to hold a hearing devoted to this very issue.”

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