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WASHINGTON — On Thursday, Free Press submitted a letter urging FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to investigate all of the factors that contributed to communication outages in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Fiona, which made landfall in late September. The storm and its aftermath caused at least 25 deaths. Free Press is calling on the agency to investigate whether the lack of communications contributed to the death toll.

Free Press is also asking the FCC to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the state of Puerto Rico’s telecommunications infrastructure to better understand the failures that occurred during Hurricane Fiona and earlier storms and emergencies, including the 2017 hurricanes that devastated the islands.

In 2019, Free Press published a detailed report and series of questions on the impact of those storms. The FCC under Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has taken steps to start addressing some of the failings identified in that report, adopting in June a new mandatory disaster-response initiative replacing the voluntary framework governing wireless carriers’ storm preparations and restoration efforts.

Free Press’ letter to the FCC is available here.

Vanessa Maria Graber, News Voices director at Free Press, said:

“Due to Puerto Rico’s colonial status as a U.S. possession — and the fact that its population is largely comprised of Black, Indigenous and mixed-race people — Puerto Ricans are often treated as second-class citizens. We saw this in 2017 when the Trump FCC failed to adequately respond to Hurricanes Maria and Irma, which knocked out 95 percent of all cell sites, 97 percent of radio stations and all local television stations.

“We’re encouraged by the action the Biden FCC has taken in the past two months, including Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s trip to Puerto Rico to survey the recovery efforts. But the agency must conduct a more thorough investigation of any significant weather event that causes communication outages and damages telecom infrastructure. This is especially critical in light of the ever-worsening climate crisis.

“In comments last month, President Biden recognized the unjust conditions that Puerto Ricans are faced with. A U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year reinforced the fact that Puerto Ricans on the islands are not treated equally under the Constitution. The Biden administration must follow through with restorative actions that will address the historical neglect of the islands. The Puerto Rican people deserve better, and their safety and well-being demand further action from the FCC and from all of government.”

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