A dog with the Maryland Task Force urban search and rescue team searches for victims of Hurricane Michael on October 16, 2018 in Mexico Beach, Florida.
Photo: Getty

The head of the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday slammed wireless carriers over what he described as unsuitably slow progress in restoring communications in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.

“Even though efforts to restore communications services have been going well in most of the areas affected by Hurricane Michael, the slow progress in restoring wireless service in areas close to where the hurricane made landfall is completely unacceptable,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement.

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Saying the actions of the companies on the ground don’t match the “urgency” conveyed by the commission, Pai announced he was joining with Florida Gov. Rick Scott in pushing a list of demands. The officials are now calling on wireless carriers to waive the monthly bills of subscribers in the affected areas, at least for the month of October, and allow them to change carriers without paying a contract penalty.

Pai added that he’s directed the FCC’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau to investigate the matter.

However, two of the largest carriers—AT&T and Verizon—are at least already offering to waive the bills of those in counties struck hardest by the hurricane.

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Prior to the Michael’s landfall as a Category 4 storm, AT&T announced it would credit and waive fees for those in the affected areas. The company is currently offering credit through October 21 to subscribers in the Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Liberty, Taylor, and Wakulla counties.

“We began preparing for this storm before it arrived and our work continues today,” said an AT&T spokesperson, noting the company has also deployed 15 large-scale cell sites to improve coverage in the most damaged areas.

Verizon is going a little further. Every customer in Bay and Gulf counties, business or consumer, will be “automatically credited for 3 months of mobile service for each line,” Verizon Executive VP Ronan Dunne said in a statement. Verizon came to the decision a week after Michael hit, said a spokesperson, who noted the company has never offered three months free service in the wake of a disaster before.

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Gizmodo has asked both T-Mobile and Sprint to respond to Pai’s remarks, and we’ll update when they do. The FCC did not respond to a request for comment. Governor Scott’s office could not be immediately reached.

Authorities continue to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Michael. By some estimates, the death toll has reached 30, though officials warn the number of fatalities is likely to change as surveys continue in the most affected counties. Many of the Floridians who evacuated their homes in time are unable to return until after search and rescue operations have ceased. As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 158,000 power customers were without electricity, according to CNN.

Update, 10/17: Sprint will proactively credit monthly recurring charges for one month for all Sprint customers in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Jackson, Liberty, and Washington counties, a company spokesperson said. 

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