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Post-Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico Needs “Extraordinary Measures,” NHMC Says

Organization tells Chairman Pai that more should be done to help Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

“This extraordinary disaster requires even more extraordinary measures to address it.”

So says the National Hispanic Media Coalition in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai dated Friday, urging the commission to do more to proactively aid in disaster recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The letter was also co-signed by the Center for Media Justice, Color of Change, Free Press and Public Knowledge.

Although the letter acknowledges the chairman’s efforts to date, the organizations ask for more help due to the infrastructure damage caused by Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

“This lack of even basic communications hampers essential emergency and medical services and undermines critical relief efforts,” the NHMC writes. “Additionally, while the people of these islands continue to work together to rebuild their lives, the inability to contact employers, education providers, and loved ones contributes to the ongoing sense of isolation and crisis.”

They ask Pai and his fellow commissioners “to take additional steps to highlight the communications crisis, reassure the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that the FCC is working for them, and to take any measures you can to assist in restoring emergency services.”

In addition, the groups cite the historical precedent of the commission’s responses to Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, writing the FCC took “measures to organize communications-focused relief operations and facilitate innovative efforts, which provided essential communications services and helped relieve people most impacted by the disaster.”

They suggest the FCC could:

  • Convene a phone conference of industry providers, equipment manufacturers, NGOs and other stakeholders to organize and coordinate a response.
  • Coordinate and encourage deployment of temporary wireless networks and authorize low-power FM stations.
  • Broker temporary roaming agreements between wireless carriers to increase availability of cell service

The NHMC notes that the lack of communications hampers relief effort coordination between local authorities, carriers, FEMA and volunteer relief organizations, all of whom do vital work.

The letter also says the organizations believe a visit to the islands is in order, so that the commissioners can see the damage first-hand and remind residents that the government is doing its best to address the problems, as Pai and Clyburn recently did in Florida.