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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Probe sought into cellular service woes during outage

Rep. José Aponte Hernández

By John McPhaul

Rep. José Aponte Hernández will request an investigation into the operations of mobile phone companies on the island during the emergency that occurred after the blackout last week.

“There have been many complaints about the lack of Internet service and even interruptions in voice calls and sending text messages in areas such as Isla Verde in Carolina,” Aponte Hernández said Sunday in a written statement.

“We understand that there are emergency situations, but private mobile communications companies have had the time and resources to temper their systems to power outages, whether due to a natural disaster such as hurricanes, or a mechanical failure,” the legislator said. “However, we have received complaints that, in certain areas of the metropolitan area, as well as in mountain regions such as Orocovis, there have been serious cellular connection problems and we want to know why.”

Last Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. electrical service on the island was interrupted as a result of a breakdown in the Costa Sur plant, leaving 1.5 million subscribers without electricity for several days.

“From the early hours of the blackout, the complaints on social networks from customers of telephone companies such as T-Mobile, Claro and Liberty focused on constant dropped calls, lack of ability to send and receive texts and total signal insufficiency in the use of the internet,” Aponte Hernández said. “Something happened; what we want is to prevent it from happening again. Saying that the cells are congested and that this makes this deficient service possible is not acceptable, since it is the same as [Hurricane] Maria and it is assumed that progress would have been made in that area.”

The veteran lawmaker alleged that according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), on Wednesday night around 375 mobile service cell sites in Puerto Rico were out of operation due to lack of electricity. After the experience of Hurricane Maria, the mobile phone companies stated that they had prepared for a similar eventuality, but last week gave no indication that it had happened, Aponte Hernández said.

“Yesterday’s [Saturday’s] data shows that now, with the system reset, the number of [inoperative] sites has dropped to just over 100; but it should never have been as high as 375,” he said. “Where are the private cell phone companies’ mitigation programs? It is obvious that greater measures have to be taken to guarantee the continuity of communications.”

The FCC report also shows that the municipalities of Loíza, Luquillo and Villalba were the most affected, with over 50 percent of their cellular systems inoperative during the blackout.

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