Build Resilient Infrastructure

Learn from the inadequate response to hurricane crises in Puerto Rico.

After Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, the federal government failed to adequately address the ensuing communications crisis. Hurricane Maria reportedly knocked out 95 percent of cellphone towers on the islands, and the inability to make calls or access life-saving information contributed to the steep death toll.

In spite of the devastation, FEMA delayed authorizing full reconstruction aid. The FCC awarded $750 million to telephone and broadband carriers to restore service — mostly by speeding up grants of already promised funding — but has failed to hold these providers accountable. The agency has also neglected to hold a single public hearing in Puerto Rico to inform its policymaking. More than a year and a half after Maria made landfall, the island’s communications networks have yet to be fully restored, and both internet and cell service remain spotty.

Climate change threatens to replicate disasters of this scale across the United States. We must address the federal government’s neglect of Puerto Rico and let this remedy serve as a model for preventing communications crises among other vulnerable populations after future storms.

Starting points:

    1. Demand an independent FCC commission to investigate the federal government’s response to the post-hurricane communications crisis in Puerto Rico, especially as compared to hurricane response in places like Florida.

    2. Direct federal recovery funds to equitably build resilient communications infrastructure in Puerto Rico.

    3. Support local communities in the development of decentralized, locally controlled communications networks in Puerto Rico and other vulnerable areas.

    4. Promote policies that hold companies accountable for building resilient networks and guarding against corporations exploiting future disasters for profit.