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FCC chairman criticizes US carriers for ‘unacceptable’ progress after Hurricane Michael

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai speaks at Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai speaks at Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

FCC chairman Ajit Pai has released a statement criticizing wireless carriers for being slow to restore service in areas affected by Hurricane Michael. The FCC says that the Category 4 hurricane, which devastated parts of the Florida Panhandle, has knocked out internet and cell service for up to 300,000 households. The hurricane made landfall last Wednesday on October 10th, and as of today, customers for Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T are still experiencing outages in some areas.

Pai is joining Florida Gov. Rick Scott in calling for carriers to waive monthly bills for affected customers and to allow them to “change carriers without penalty.” (These days most consumers aren’t under service contracts, so that’s a bit of a moot point.) Pai is also asking the Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau to look into the carriers’ recovery efforts.

Verizon reported earlier this week that extensive damage to electrical wires and fiber from Michael has slowed down efforts to get its network back up and running for all customers. The company is currently sharing updates to its recovery efforts online and issued a statement today confirming it will offer free credits to affected customers: “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.”

AT&T is also offering credits to customers in select counties, and issued a statement to The Verge:

“We began preparing for this storm before it arrived and our work continues today. Because of these efforts, we were able to keep our customers, including first responders, connected during and after the storm in many areas. In addition, we deployed 15 large scale portable cell sites to the most storm damaged areas to provide connectivity. 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. Our crews continue working day and night to ensure continuing connectivity for the affected areas.”

T-Mobile has not yet issued a statement on whether it will be offering bill credits, but reports on its Hurricane Michael network updates page that service is almost fully restored in North Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia sites, while the Florida Panhandle site is still being worked on.