FCC Chief Hits Phone Companies for ‘Slow’ Hurricane Response

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai criticized “slow progress” in restoring wireless service in areas hard hit by Hurricane Michael, and ordered an investigation into the effort.

The storm slammed into the Florida panhandle on Oct. 10, devastating towns like Mexico Beach and Panama City Beach. As of late Monday, 65 percent of cell sites in surrounding Bay County weren’t working, according to the FCC.

“The slow progress in restoring wireless service in areas close to where the hurricane made landfall is completely unacceptable,” Pai said in an emailed statement. “While the FCC has been in regular contact with companies serving the affected areas, I’m concerned that their actions on the ground aren’t matching the urgency that we have conveyed.”

Pai said he was joining Florida Governor Rick Scott in calling on wireless carriers to waive the bills of Floridians in affected areas for October, and to allow them to change carriers without penalty.

The carriers defended their restoration efforts and several said they were offering free service. Verizon Communications Inc. said it would provide free mobile service to its customers in Florida’s Bay and Gulf counties for three months. AT&T Inc. said it was extending credits to customers in those counties and several others through Oct. 21 and possibly longer.

“While we don’t have an estimate as to when we’ll be fully up and running, we are making progress every hour, and won’t rest until service is restored to the entire area,” Verizon said in an emailed statement.

AT&T Inc. in a Monday post said that its networks “are nearly fully restored in most affected areas,” and that it had deployed portable cell sites “in numerous locations throughout Florida and Georgia.”

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