It’s been two weeks since I wrote a blog detailing the impact the 2017 hurricane season has had on our network and facilities, and why the unprecedented damage caused by Hurricane Maria in particular has made restoring the communications infrastructure in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands such an enormous challenge. Since that time significant progress has been made.  

We are currently connecting more than 60% of the population in Puerto Rico, and handling 9 million calls and 5.5 million texts a day over our network.  We have cell tower coverage in parts of Bayamon, Caguas, Carolina, Catano, Dorado, Guaynabo, and San Juan and we are working to restore key transport facilities for other areas.

Because of significant damage to our fiber backhaul network, we are providing coverage via portable cell towers connected to satellite backhaul in areas with little or no tower coverage.  This is a temporary fix while we work on re-laying and re-splicing hundreds of miles of fiber.  Through temporary cell sites (or satellite cells on light trucks known as SatCOLTs), we are currently connecting several cities, including Isabela, Rincon Pueblo, Humacao, Rio Grande, Ponce Cursillo, Quebradillas, Arecibo, Manati, Yauco, Cayey, Mayaguez Mesa, San German, Fajardo, Guayama and Vega Baja.

In addition to temporary cell sites, we have also deployed the entire array of recovery assets:  support trucks, emergency communications vehicles (ECVs), a mobile command trailer and generators with the necessary fuel to power our wireless and wireline equipment as the commercial power outages continue.  And don’t forget the most important asset of all:  our dedicated network team that is working day and night to restore services. 

We know that information is also an essential commodity in a storm, so we created a website that helps folks stateside locate family members and friends in Puerto Rico by enabling anyone, regardless of carrier, to register the cell phone number of someone who is an AT&T wireless customer in Puerto Rico.  When the AT&T customer’s device hits our network in Puerto Rico, they will get a text telling them that their loved ones tried to call.  Thousands of people have signed up and more than 67% of them have been notified of restored connectivity for family and friends.

We have also been able to connect our customers through innovative new wireless roaming agreements. For example, we are working with a company called Vanu that currently has three satellite-based cell sites up and running in Puerto Rico and 30 more arrived yesterday. Nine cell sites also arrived yesterday in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, we are making steady progress in deploying equipment and restoring services, and we are now connecting nearly 80% of the population.  The Blue Mountain microwave site in St. Croix was restored last week and the cellular radios at the site will be completed this weekend providing incremental coverage on the island.  Teams are on the islands working to repair cell sites and refueling generators.  We have a temporary cell site on air on St. Thomas. In addition, we are planning to deploy a temporary cell site to St. John to provide coverage in the Bordeaux area as soon as transportation allows.

Finally, a note on the fires burning in California that are devastating entire communities.  We’ve been able to move mobile restoration assets quickly into place in areas where the fire has destroyed either towers or the fiber backhaul network necessary for connectivity and we are working hard to keep California Emergency Services, first responders and our customers connected.  Our thoughts and efforts will remain invested in California as first responders continue the battle to contain the blaze.

As I stated in my last blog, every disaster is different.  Harvey, Irma, Maria, Nate and the CA firestorms have all made their marks, large and small, on the communities they touched.  We will continue to stand with first responders and the impacted communities as they rise to each challenge and dig in to rebuild in the aftermath of each storm.

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