The Federal Communications Commission head said he plans to investigate the “completely unacceptable” failure of wireless providers to fully restore service after Hurricane Michael slammed into Florida’s Panhandle.
“The slow progress in restoring wireless service in areas close to where the hurricane made landfall is completely unacceptable,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement Tuesday.
“While the FCC has been in regular contact with companies serving the affected areas, I’m concerned that their actions on the ground aren’t matching the urgency that we have conveyed during those conversations,” Pai added.
Hurricane Michael slammed into Florida a week ago, killing at least 20 people in the state and leaving hundreds of thousands without power. More than 60 percent of cell service remained down in Bay County, which includes the hard-hit Mexico Beach and Panama City areas, the FCC reported on Tuesday.
Pai joined Gov. Rick Scott (R) in calling on wireless carriers to waive bills for October for those still without coverage. Scott also suggested that people be allowed to switch providers without penalty.
AT&T said it has started offering free credits to people in certain areas through Oct. 21 and will extend them “as conditions require.”
“Our crews continue working day and night to ensure continuing connectivity for the affected areas,” the company said in a statement.
Verizon plans to offer three free months of service to customers in Bay and Gulf counties. (Verizon owns HuffPost’s parent company, Oath.) T-Mobile is waiving a variety of fees and offering free data, text messages and calls as of Oct. 10. Sprint has rolled out a similar initiative.
The storm’s total death toll rose to at least 29 as of Tuesday, including five in Virginia, three in North Carolina and one in Georgia, and more than 1,000 people were missing, Reuters reported. About 200,000 people remained without power as of Sunday, according to The Washington Post, and it could take several more weeks before the lights come back on.
“A lot of times people don’t realize the National Guard, the power trucks, the charitable groups, this is all a coordinated effort,” said Brock Long, Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator. “We are seeing the private sector come back up pretty quickly. We’ve got a long way to go, but expectations that things will be put back together instantly is mistaken.”
Those awaiting other basic needs, like water and sanitation, continued to struggle.
“I’m staying out here to try to keep away looters, to try to save what I can save,” Bernard Sutton, a 64-year-old cancer patient currently living out of a tent and broken-down minivan, told Reuters.