In the wake of Hurricane Fiona, 30% of Puerto Rico’s cell sites remain out

Cellular and landline service is making slow progress toward restoration in Puerto Rico, as the island begins recovery from the impact of Hurricane Fiona.

Of the U.S. territory’s nearly 2,500 cellular sites, about 750, or 30% of sites, were still out of service yesterday, according to the Federal Communications Commission, which is tracking communications impacts from the storm. Another 629 sites were reported as up, but operating on back-up power supplies.

According to the figures reported to the FCC, no cell sites were out due to damage, though flooding from Fiona has increased the risk of landslides in Puerto Rico. The outages were primarily due to a lack of power at more than 650 sites and due to transport being out at 72 sites.

Fiona struck Puerto Rico as a Category 3 storm before strengthening to a Category 4. At one point, power on the entire island was knocked out, and rain continued to feed flooding into Monday. At least a million people are still reportedly without electricity. Eight deaths have so far been reported.

The FCC not only activated its customary disaster reporting, but is also sending staff to the island to “perform post-landfall, on-site surveys of communications services and infrastructure as well as to assist with coordination and oversight of communications restoration,” according to an agency release. The agency said that it is also “performing a baseline survey of spectrum usage in targeted areas, which will help federal agencies assess the post-landfall impact to broadcasters and public safety communications.”

Jon Freier, president of T-Mo’s U.S. consumer group, tweeted on Monday, “It has been a difficult day in Puerto Rico with historic floowing and continued island-wide power disruption” and that T-Mobile US teams were working to restore network operations.

According to a Wednesday update by T-Mobile US, many of its stores had re-open. “T-Mobile’s network is holding up well in Puerto Rico and many sites are operating as normal. The power outage continues to be the largest cause of impact,” the company reported. “Teams are refueling generators, deploying portable generators and assessing damage at cell sites as it’s safe to do so.”

Cable and wireline companies reported on Wednesday that nearly 741,500 subscribers were out of service in Puerto Rico, but that was down from more than 795,000 the day before.

AT&T no longer operates a network in Puerto Rico, after selling its network assets on the island to Liberty Latin America in 2019. However, the carrier did retain responsibility for FirstNet service for first responders and a spokesman said that the carrier has deployed indoor wireless solutions in San Juan County and has “a fleet of network recovery equipment ready for deployment, as needed.”

Likewise, Verizon does not own or operate a wireless network in Puerto Rico or nor does it have stores there; subscribers roam via Claro’s network. A Verizon spokesperson said that the company does have one fiber point-of-presence on the island that was initially running on backup power after the storm but is back to operating on commercial power.

Claro tweeted pictures of its crews at work earlier this week, saying that the company was “working hard to restore service to affected areas.”

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