Coalition Asks for Commission to Review Puerto Rico Communications Failures
Friday, September 21, 2018 | Comments

A coalition of Puerto Rican advocates, racial and social justice organizations, and media and telecommunications experts asked FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to appoint an independent commission to examine the causes for communications failures in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria last year.

In a letter delivered to Pai, on the one-year anniversary of the storm making landfall in Puerto Rico, groups including the Center for Media Justice, Color of Change, Collective Action for Puerto Rico, Defend Puerto Rico, Free Press, the National Hispanic Media Coalition and Resilient Just Technologies criticized the brief hurricane season report the agency released last month.

“The 36-page hurricane season report released by the FCC last month attempted to inform the public about the commission’s actions following the hurricanes that struck the United States last year,” the letter said. “But, the report failed to provide the kind of comprehensive examination that is needed following such a historic tragedy in Puerto Rico.”

At the time of the report’s release, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel also criticized the report, saying it was too little, too late. The groups agreed with Rosenworcel in their letter.

The letter said that the lack of resilient communications infrastructure in Puerto Rico apparently contributed to the Maria’s death toll because people could not call for help. While some reports by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) showed the impact of the loss of communications, none of the reports have provided an in-depth review of the telecommunications challenges facing Puerto Rico or potential solutions for those challenges.

“That is analysis the FCC and an independent commission could and should have provided,” the letter said.

The groups also noted that the FCC has not held any public hearings in Puerto Rico to hear directly from Puerto Ricans how the failure of communications services impacted their lives. Bilingual public hearings should play a key role in shaping policies around the critical communications needs of Puerto Rico residents, the letter said.

The letter acknowledged that the FCC had agreed to provide the phone and cable industry with $750 million in accelerated Universal Service Fund payments to restore service and build a resilient communications network. However, the groups said, it’s hard to know the best way to use those funds without further investigation into the communications challenges facing Puerto Rico.

“Puerto Ricans deserve a comprehensive examination, from an independent commission, that fully explores the causes for the critical failure of communications infrastructure the hurricane caused, and that properly evaluates efforts to restore and improve service,” the letter said.

Find the full letter here.

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