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WASHINGTON —  In recent days, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai ordered his agency to investigate telecom carriers’ slow response in restoring service to the Florida Panhandle, which Hurricane Michael struck on Oct. 10.

Free Press applauds Pai for holding telecom companies accountable in this instance. But Pai failed to show the same urgency in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which struck Puerto Rico in 2017 and left nearly the entire population without phone and broadband service.

Last month, Free Press joined Puerto Rican groups and advocates in calling on the FCC to appoint an independent commission to investigate all of the causes of the collapse of communications networks in Puerto Rico — and to take steps to ensure this kind of communications blackout doesn’t recur.

Free Press Senior Policy Counsel Carmen Scurato made the following statement:

“Chairman Pai has called on telecom carriers to waive the October bills for people living in areas impacted by Hurricane Michael. He also urged carriers to publicly disclose how they plan to restore service, asked the agency’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to launch an investigation, and questioned whether companies are doing everything they’re expected to do under the voluntary disaster-response agreements.

“But Pai showed no such urgency after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and resulted in 3,000 to 5,000 deaths. Residents’ inability to make a call or use the internet to seek help contributed significantly to the death toll.

“Even now, more than a year after Hurricanes Irma and Maria made landfall, phone and internet service have not been fully restored and remain spotty in certain areas. Pai has yet to call for an investigation into the companies’ response and has failed to hold a public hearing in Puerto Rico to hear from Puerto Ricans about how the loss of communications impacted them. And while the FCC has awarded millions to telecom carriers to restore service and build a more resilient network, it’s failed to ensure that these companies are using this money to benefit all Puerto Ricans on the islands, regardless of where they live.

“We are once again urging Pai to fulfill his duty to the people of Puerto Rico and take concrete steps immediately to fully restore service and appoint an independent commission to investigate the causes of the communications crisis.”

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