Two weeks after Hurricane Maria ransacked the Caribbean, telecom carriers on the island of Puerto Rico are still struggling to restore service, with severe power shortages proving to be the major obstacle.
Amid the crisis, though, some carriers are benefiting; Claro, for example, is seeing a sudden spike in signups, according to Reuters.
American telecom carriers, including AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile, have been slow in restoring service, as a patchy power supply is hampering their efforts.
As much as 88.8% of the island’s cell towers have been out of service since last week, according to the latest US Federal Communications Commission update.
Out of four fiber-optic providers, one is mostly broken and one is completely down. Roughly 75% of fiber coverage isn’t working, according to US news portal Wired.
One problem is that the local power authority is bankrupt, and the US government is taking longer time to ship the equipment – such as generators, chargers and batteries – needed to restore electricity. As of this week, fewer than 15% of Puerto Ricans have power.
Google has promised Loon balloons that will serve as cell sites; however, there are not yet any reports of the balloons reaching the island.
Most of the island’s cellular sites are powered by diesel generators. Luis Romero, Vice President of the Puerto Rico Telecommunications Alliance, has told Wired that all telecom carriers have joined together to restore the service. “But basically we’re on our own here,” Romero said in an apparent reference to vacant US support.
The island is also running short on fuel, so even the cellular sites that are up and running may shut down if generators run out of diesel.