FCC: Lack of Coordination Extended Hurricane-Related Wireless Outages

The FCC has identified what it says were the main causes of the "unacceptably slow restoration of wireless service in the Florida Panhandle" following Hurricane Michael in 2018 and suggested, among other things, that wireless providers strike roaming agreements as part of pre-storm prep and engage in some backhaul "diversity."

The FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau released a report on its investigation, and concluded that the main culprits were "insufficiently resilient backhaul connectivity, inadequate reciprocal roaming arrangements, and lack of coordination between wireless service providers, power crews, and municipalities."

Related: FCC Update: Force of Hurricane Michael Still Felt in Communications Circles

That lack of coordination sometimes led to new communications outages being created by the clean-up and recovery efforts.

The report said there were numerous times when a provider had restored service only to have it brought down again by crews clearing trash or restoring power lines and utility poles, a case of "miss utility" not missing communications lines.

The report said that lack of coordination among wireless providers, utilities and cleanup crews unnecessarily prolonged service outages.

“It will come as no surprise to the residents of the Florida Panhandle that there is significant room for improvement on the recovery efforts seen in the wake of Hurricane Michael,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “I appreciate the efforts of the FCC’s public safety staff and call on wireless phone companies, other communications providers, and power companies to quickly implement the recommendations contained in this report.”

The report recommends some changes in addition to roaming pre-arrangements:

1. "Communications providers and power companies in hurricane-prone areas enter into coordination agreements regarding mutual preparation and restoration efforts that can be activated when a storm strikes.

2. "Wireless providers use diverse backhaul options, such as microwave links and satellite links in hurricane-prone areas.

3. "Communications providers participate in training activities to improve coordination of restoration efforts.

4. "Wireless providers ensure familiarity with applicable best practices, especially as they relate to cooperation and coordination with local utilities."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.