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WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, Free Press released Connecting the Dots: The Telecommunications Crisis in Puerto Rico, a report on how the destruction of communications networks following Hurricanes Irma and Maria contributed to the unfolding tragedy.

The report condemns the Federal Communications Commission for failing to adequately respond to the September 2017 hurricanes, which knocked out 95 percent of all cell sites, 97 percent of radio stations and all local television stations. It calls out the agency’s failure to hold wired and wireless carriers to account for neglecting to build resilient networks or respond in a timely or sufficient fashion to restore communications to the islands’ residents. The report urges the FCC to form an independent commission to investigate the communications crisis, which contributed to the deaths of thousands.

“The disaster can’t be separated from the history of more than 100 years of U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico,” the report reads, “a history of wealth extraction, systemic racism and economic exploitation that left the islands’ critical infrastructure — including the communications networks — fragile and vulnerable.”

Also on Tuesday, Free Press released the FCC’s initial response to its ongoing Freedom of Information Act request for consumer complaints received from wired and wireless customers in Puerto Rico following the hurricanes’ devastation. The complaints offer a small window into a much larger problem in Puerto Rico, where many of the principal carriers promised automatic refunds and relief for the extensive loss of services but seemingly failed to deliver.

The Free Press report and FOIA response reveal a shocking double standard at the Trump FCC, where the agency has failed to investigate and hold carriers accountable for the widespread and prolonged outages following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. By contrast, the FCC conducted a far more rigorous investigation into the communications failures that followed Hurricane Michael, which struck Florida in October 2018. But the FCC has ignored calls to conduct a similar analysis in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Connecting the Dots features the perspectives of people living in Puerto Rico. Free Press worked in partnership with Resilient Just Technologies and the Center for Embodied Pedagogy & Action to collect stories from those in the storm’s path. The report draws from these accounts to call for an independent investigation and propose a series of policy changes for Congress, the FCC and other federal agencies to adopt to fully understand what went wrong and to prevent the islands’ communications networks from collapsing in the future. These recommendations also apply to other parts of the country that suffer from violent storms.

On Wednesday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will go before the House Energy and Commerce Committee for an oversight hearing. Free Press has called on members of Congress to pose a series of tough questions about the agency’s failure to respond to the crisis in Puerto Rico.

Report co-author and Free Press Senior Policy Counsel Carmen Scurato made the following statement:

“It’s deeply troubling how little interest the Trump FCC has shown in analyzing what went wrong in Puerto Rico and using this information to shape its policies on communication rights and public safety. Our report calls attention to the critical need to examine and investigate all of the causes for the collapse of the communications networks. We pose dozens of key questions that Congress must demand answers to if we are to ensure a crisis like this isn’t repeated.

“Our report and the FCC’s related FOIA response also identify a credibility problem with the carriers, one that raises serious questions about these companies’ past conduct. It’s crucial for the FCC to adopt policies that require carriers to build more resilient networks.

“FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s indifference to the communications crisis in Puerto Rico speaks volumes about the islands’ colonial legacy. When Pai visited Puerto Rico, he met with telecom-company officials but failed to hold a single public hearing. In addition, President Trump has lied repeatedly about the level of federal assistance Puerto Rico has received. The president’s underlying message — that Puerto Ricans don’t deserve help — is reflected in Pai’s own failure to respond adequately to the disaster.

“As U.S. government actions — and inactions — have worsened a massive humanitarian crisis, it’s the FCC’s duty to investigate what went wrong and to adopt policies that prevent any future communications blackouts.

“What happened in Puerto Rico is a man-made disaster, exacerbated by the neglect of carriers and the one agency that’s supposed to hold these businesses accountable to the public interest. It’s Congress’ duty to demand answers from the FCC. This is long overdue.”

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