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WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission released a report on its investigation into communications providers’ preparation for and response to Hurricane Michael, which struck Florida in October 2018. The Florida investigation criticized the lack of coordination among wireless and landline service providers, power crews and municipalities in restoring communications in the wake of the storm. But the report fails to suggest strong enough FCC action and remedies to ensure that carriers take responsibility for their outages and failures to restore service quickly.

Yet this FCC report also reveals a shocking double standard when compared to the agency’s failure to investigate and hold carriers accountable for the widespread and prolonged communications outages following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which caused thousands of deaths in Puerto Rico in September 2017.

The Trump FCC’s failures to respond accordingly to the crisis in Puerto Rico are not surprising in this administration. For example, President Donald Trump has repeatedly mischaracterized the scale of the federal response to the devastation across Puerto Rico. During a campaign rally in the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday, Trump again repeated the lie that Puerto Rico had received $91 billion after the storms.

In September 2018, a coalition of Puerto Rican advocates, racial- and social-justice organizations, and media and telecommunications experts, including Free Press, urged FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to appoint an independent commission to examine the causes of the communications failures in Puerto Rico.

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

“The FCC’s Hurricane Michael report provides some useful information, but not enough answers — and it serves as another painful reminder to Puerto Ricans of the agency’s inexcusable failure to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the collapse of the islands’ communication networks following Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“The Florida report shows that the FCC still hasn’t learned its lesson. The agency must scrap its voluntary framework on how carriers should respond to a disaster, and conduct a comprehensive investigation on the vulnerability of our communications networks. It needs to adopt enforceable regulations ensuring that telecom companies take action to quickly restore service.

“The report also identifies a credibility problem with the carriers, one that raises serious questions about these companies’ past conduct. It is critical for the FCC to adopt policies that hold the carriers accountable for building more resilient networks.  

“But the few advances in the FCC’s understanding after Hurricane Michael don’t absolve the agency’s failures in Puerto Rico. In fact, the new report only highlights the discriminatory and negligent posture this agency has taken toward the devastation on the islands. Hurricane Maria was one of the worst disasters in U.S. history. Between 3,000 to 5,000 people died. And the inability to communicate contributed to the soaring death toll.

“In September 2018, on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, we called for an independent investigation of the communications collapse in Puerto Rico. The scope of the disaster and the length of the outages should have prompted the agency to act. It’s now time for Congress to hold the FCC accountable for failing to do so.”

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