Updated at 8:23 p.m. ET
Florida residents still trying to piece together their lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael are missing one much needed tool: reliable cellphone service.
Amid reports of ongoing and widespread outages, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, is calling for an investigation of the problem. He is also calling for wireless carriers to waive October bills of Florida customers in areas hit by the hurricane.
“Even though efforts to restore communications services have been going well in most of the areas affected by Hurricane Michael, the slow progress in restoring wireless service in areas close to where the hurricane made landfall is completely unacceptable,” Pai said in a statement.
Pai said that he has had regular contact with cellphone companies and that he is concerned that they have not acted with urgency.
“I am therefore joining Governor Scott in calling on wireless carriers to waive the bills of Floridians in these affected areas for the month of October and to allow them to change carriers without penalty. These carriers also need to immediately disclose publicly to Floridians how they will quickly restore service,” he added.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott is in the closing days of a race for the U.S. Senate against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
The FCC also released this status of communications services report for the areas impacted by Michael.
It says that in Bay County, more than 60 percent of cell sites are still out. Bay County includes the hard-hit jurisdictions of Mexico Beach and Panama City Beach. In Gulf County, more than 40 percent of cell sites are still down.
A spokesman for AT&T, Michael Balmoris, said his company has deployed 15 large-scale portable cell sites to the most storm-damaged areas and already had begun extending credits and waiving overage charges to customers.
“Before the storm hit we announced and implemented credits for our customers. Beginning on October 10 credits have been given to customers in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Liberty, Taylor and Wakulla counties. We plan to continue extending these credits through October 21st, and will continue as conditions require,” he said in an email.
A spokesman for Verizon, Ronan Dunne, said the company is “100% focused on repairing our network in the Florida Panhandle.”
“Every Verizon customer in Bay and Gulf counties will be automatically credited for 3 months of mobile service for each line. This free service is for both consumer and business accounts,” he added in an email.
T-Mobile CEO John Legere tweeted that his company is giving customers in the affected areas “free data, text and calls as of 10/10.”
Sprint said that from Oct. 10 through Oct. 18 it “will waive call, text and data overage fees. Those customers who are already on Unlimited plans, they will continue to have their unlimited call, text and data benefits.”
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