Hurricane

Still no internet or cell service? You’re not alone

Hurricane Irma floods streets in downtown Miami

As Hurricane Irma made its way through Florida, downtown Miami found itself flooded on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017.
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As Hurricane Irma made its way through Florida, downtown Miami found itself flooded on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017.

Mario Sanchez can’t get a straight answer about his U-verse internet service.

Sanchez sells window coverings and most of his customers are in Latin America. Like thousands of other South Floridians, the internet is vital to his livelihood.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Sanchez is among the many locals who have called the Miami Herald and taken to Twitter to express their frustration and anger over outages. Sanchez is particularly disgusted, he said, by the lack of information provided by his provider. AT&T first told him there was no outage in his neighborhood, and that it must be his modem. Then the company said his area was experiencing an outage. When will service be restored? he asked. “We don’t know, we have no idea,” he said he was told.

“We are in the dark and we are a society that depends on the internet,” Sanchez said on Wednesday.

He called AT&T’s corporate offices. He contacted the office of his U.S. representative, Carlos Curbelo, as well as Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s office. He tried to reach U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson — but said he couldn’t get through. “The companies are not providing any information to their customers, and I don’t think government is putting enough pressure on them.”

Hundreds — perhaps thousands — of South Floridians seem to agree, according to social media and calls and emails to the Miami Herald. Outages on Comcast Xfinity, AT&T U-verse and Atlantic Broadband are widespread. On top of that, customers of cellular carriers Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile are also experiencing service disruptions. Sens. Rubio and Nelson sent a letter to FEMA Tuesday requesting they coordinate with relevant federal, state and local officials to help communications providers restore Florida’s networks.

The good news: There really has been progress on both fronts.

The four providers of local cellular services said they were unable to say how many cell sites are out of service in South Florida — even though they supply that exact information for every county in Florida to the Federal Communications Commission’s daily “snapshot” reports in the aftermath of the storm. The FCC reports provide the number breakdown by county but do not include providers’ names.

Here’s what the latest FCC report says:

▪ Eighty-two percent of cell sites in the Keys and other parts of Irma-ravaged Monroe County are not working, according to an FCC report issued Wednesday.

▪ In Miami-Dade and Broward counties, about 30 percent of all sites remain non-functioning — a decrease from 40 percent on Tuesday, the report said.

▪ After the Keys, Southwest Florida is experiencing the most outages.

▪ Statewide, 18 percent are without service, down from 24.6 percent Tuesday.

AT&T spokesman Kelly Starling said on Wednesday that the company has dispatched more than 20 pieces of recovery equipment in Florida, including four portable cell sites in the Florida Keys. That comes in addition to portable cell sites, an electronic communication vehicle, command center and a hazmat team deployed Tuesday to Miami.

AT&T also has set up a charging station at the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition Center for the several hundred evacuees being sheltered there, mostly from the Florida Keys, and is giving them free AT&T PREPAID devices with 30 days of service, she said.

As for internet service restoration, Comcast spokeswoman Mindy Kramer said the company has been telling customers that it estimates service will be restored by Sept. 18, based on the significant degree of commercial power outages in South Florida.

“However the [estimate] is a fluid date based on commercial power restoration and the work our teams are doing in the field,” she said. “For example, in the past 24 hours alone we have restored services for more than 100,000 customers in South Florida. Our goal is to do everything possible to restore services as quickly as we can.”

All of Comcast’s Miami-Dade and Broward facilities remain on generator power, she said Wednesday. “Our teams are now deploying generators into neighborhoods so that we can bring our services back on line even when our equipment does not yet have commercial power,” she said.

In addition, network maintenance teams are in the field repairing cut fiber lines. “We have also seen damage to our lines caused by fires when the power lines on the poles become re-energized with commercial power. It’s a complex restoration process.”

In Monroe County, Comcast has re-established connectivity to its network and is now restoring services in Key Largo. “We still have no access beyond Marathon, but we have crews standing by and barges ready to bring in additional crews and equipment as soon as these areas become accessible,” she said. “We know there is significant damage to homes, as well as debris and downed trees so restoring services here will take time.”

Comcast customers can find more information or report service issues here: https://www.xfinity.com/florida.

Atlantic Broadband also said restoration services are underway.

“As of 12 p.m. Wednesday, 43 percent of Atlantic Broadband Florida customers are back online with their services and that number is growing every day as FPL brings power back up. The important news is that the vast majority of our network is fully functional so once FPL is able to restore power, we should be able to turn customers’ services back on quickly,” said Rich Shea, CEO of Atlantic Broadband, in a statement.

Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

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