Pallone Requests GAO Investigation of Communication Failures in U.S. Territories Following Hurricane Maria
Washington, D.C. – Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) sent a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) today urging the government watchdog to investigate and evaluate months-long communication failures and restoration efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricane Maria in 2017.
As part of his request, Pallone wrote that the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) response to Hurricane Maria raises serious questions about the state of our communications infrastructure. One day after the storm made landfall, the FCC reported that 95 percent of the cell sites in Puerto Rico and 76 percent of cell sites in the U.S. Virgin Islands were out of service. Two months following the storm, FCC reported that 36 percent of cell sites in Puerto Rico and 37 percent of cell sites in the U.S. Virgin Islands were still out of service.
“The communications network failures in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were deeply detrimental to their residents, and may have even caused additional deaths in Puerto Rico,” Pallone wrote to GAO. “Ensuring the resiliency and reliability of communications networks in the United States has been a top priority of mine. To prevent similar failures in the future, it is critical that we understand what happened during the hurricane and its aftermath, and what could be improved.”
A report by Free Press highlights the need for a critical examination of the causes of the communications failures and efforts to restore service following the hurricane.
To better understand what happened before and after Hurricane Maria, Pallone requested that the GAO examine several questions, including:
- Has the FCC adequately responded to the communications problems in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricane Maria? To the extent the FCC took action, were the actions timely or could the FCC have acted more quickly?
- Did the FCC’s response differ from the agency’s response to hurricanes that hit the U.S. mainland?
- In what ways could the Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) be a more meaningful source of information for the public of critical network outages during emergencies and natural disasters?
- In a report assessing problems that arose in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, the FCC identified failures of the voluntary Wireless Resiliency Cooperative Framework that exacerbated communications outages caused by that hurricane. Were there similar issues with the Framework during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria?
- The FCC approved additional funding to accelerate the restoration of communications networks damaged and destroyed by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. How is the FCC tracking the funds and ensuring that the funds are being used as intended?
To read the letter, click HERE.