Free Press Slams FCC Hurricane Response in Puerto Rico

Free Press has issued a damning report on the FCC's response to communications outages in Puerto Rico after the September 2017 one two punch of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

"The FCC, the government agency responsible for ensuring that the media and telecom companies it regulates serve the public interest, has yet to conduct a vigorous investigation into the failure of the islands’ communications infrastructure, which was a major factor in the [3,000-5,000] death toll," said the report.

Related: FCC Chair Pai Says More USF Funds Needed to Help Puerto Rico

"It’s deeply troubling how little interest the FCC has shown in analyzing what went wrong and using this information to shape its policies on communication rights and public safety," said Free Press.

Free Press wants the FCC, among many other things, to 1) convene an independent commission to investigate the extent of communications failures, 2) hold telecom companies accountable for the length of time it took to restore services, and "abandon" its efforts to "dismantle" the Lifeline low income broadband/telecom subsidy program, which helps Puerto Ricans, among others, pay for phone and broadband.

An FCC spokesperson said an independent commission was not needed.

“It’s terribly misleading to claim that establishing a commission would be a more effective use of time and resources than the work we did and continue to do," the spokesman said. "This includes the analysis and report we already did on the hurricane, and the creation of the Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund to provide short, medium and long-term funding to restore, harden and improve telecommunications networks in Puerto Rico. FCC staff and senior leadership have spent significant time working with local leaders to do everything we can to help in the recovery, resiliency, and eventually improvement of communications services for these hard-hit Americans.”

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.