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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Wins New 5-Year Term With Republican Support

‘I win’ — Pai wins a second 5-year term at the FCC.

Republicans in the U.S. Senate on Monday confirmed Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai for a second five-year term at the regulatory agency at a time when he is in the process of dismantling the legacy left by the former Obama Administration, which introduced consumer telecommunications reforms and mandated Net Neutrality.

Pai won confirmation with unanimous Republican support, joined by four Democrats — Sens. Jon Tester (Mont.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Joe Manchin (W.V.), and Claire McCaskill (Mo.). Every other Democrat in attendance opposed his nomination, many raising serious doubts about his performance and regulator philosophy. Pai was a former lawyer for Verizon and has delivered policy speeches sponsored by large corporate interests, including Americans for Prosperity, which has close ties to the Koch Bros.

Although Pai promised in a statement after the vote he would continue to focus on “bridging the digital divide, promoting innovation, protecting consumers and public safety, and making the FCC more open and transparent,” his critics complain he has spent most of his time repealing Obama era rules and regulations to erase the legacy of his predecessor Thomas Wheeler.

Pai is widely expected to preside over the elimination of Net Neutrality/Open Internet protections, despite millions of objections from ordinary Americans who wrote the FCC in historic numbers. Most requested the agency preserve the rules that prevent internet providers from establishing paid fast lanes and speed throttles.

Pai “has established a clear record of favoring big corporations at the expense of consumers, innovators, and small businesses,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Senate roll call vote on the nomination of Ajit Pai for another 5-year term.

The current FCC chairman has also received withering criticism from consumer and public interest groups for his apparent close ties to Sinclair Broadcast Group, which itself has ties to the Trump Administration. Critics accuse Pai of engineering FCC rule changes that closely coincide with the business agenda of Sinclair, the nation’s largest owner of local television stations. Sinclair is currently awaiting FCC approval of its acquisition of Tribune Media, which will include local stations serving major cities including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was particularly critical of Pai’s performance, suggesting he was little more than a corporate tool:

“As powerful companies know, it is good to have friends on the inside and they have invested a lot of money in making friends. Giant corporations have spent unlimited amounts of money to elect politicians who will promote their views and to flood Congress with lobbyists who will work around the clock to destroy laws and rules that the industry doesn’t like and to reshape those laws to suit corporate interests.

“[…] Powerful corporations need weak agencies that won’t hold them accountable, so they work to fill those agencies with their allies — friends who can undo the rules that giant corporations don’t like. Friends who won’t go after those companies when they throw the rules out the window to make an extra buck. The FCC is one of the agencies that has been on their hit list for a long time, and now they see their opportunity to execute a corporate takeover of the FCC, and they started at the top with Ajit Pai, President Trump’s pick to chair the FCC. Since his appointment as chair of the FCC, Chairman Pai has worked at breakneck speed to transform the FCC from an agency that works in the public interest to a big business support group.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) explains her reasons why she doesn’t support the nomination of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai for another five-year term. (8:43)

Puerto Rico Hurricane Response “Worse Than Katrina;” Massive Telecom Outages Continue

Utility poles in Puerto Rico down in enormous numbers.

Many parts of the island of Puerto Rico remains in a total communications blackout after Hurricane Maria decimated the territory’s utility networks, with many mayors warning some communities won’t have restored service until “sometime in 2018.”

Stop the Cap! has collected information about the actual state of Puerto Rico’s telecommunications networks after the Federal Communications Commission admitted it has incomplete information as a result of the voluntary nature of its Disaster Information Reporting System. Some providers have no way to submit reports to the FCC and there have been questions about whether the submitted reports are “unrealistic and optimistic,” and don’t always indicate whether service has been restored to an equivalent level in place before the hurricane.

Javier (we are omitting his last name to protect his job) is a senior engineer at one of Puerto Rico’s larger telecom companies. He has communicated with us for over a year, primarily on events surrounding Puerto Rico’s cable industry on the island and media consolidation issues. Early this morning, we heard a candid assessment of the situation in Puerto Rico, where he lives and works.

“It is completely catastrophic down here to the point where you feel paralyzed, unsure of where to begin cleaning up,” Javier shared with us. “It looks like the eastern and northern parts of Puerto Rico got the worst the storm, but there are lots of areas on the western half of the island nobody has heard from since the storm. There is absolutely no communications with some of what we think are the most vunerable communities. The news media has taken helicopters into some of these areas and stations like WAPA are reporting there is life, but water is in short supply and the destruction is unbelievable — nothing Puerto Ricans can recall during their lifetime.”

Javier reports anyone moving between towns outside of the urban areas needs an all terrain vehicle with plenty of gas and a chainsaw to clear debris from the roads. Many are not passable because bridges have been washed out or collapsed. His job of late is utility infrastructure inspection and the news is not good.

“A lot of this island’s electrical transmission network is probably going to be rebuilt from the ground up,” he reports. “There are towers — many metal or concrete, that are completely bent over or fallen, and some of the higher voltage lines are going the take weeks just to reach because they are blocked by the huge number of trees down. Many are in such a compromised state, they are still toppling over. Some cell towers collapsed over the weekend, so it can be very dangerous to climb these.”

Javier says some parts of the island have gotten desperate for food and water, followed by safe housing and access to telecommunications to let distant family members know how they are doing.

“Many Puerto Ricans are not kidding themselves, and they expect they will not be treated the same as hurricane victims in Florida and Texas, in part because of the territory’s status in the United States and the fact its needs have usually been ignored or cut short by Washington. Local and state officials have tried to maintain a positive attitude about the relief effort and have repeatedly thanked first responders, FEMA, and the Trump Administration, but there are clear signs the goodwill is straining as days pass with inadequate relief. It threatens to become worse than Hurricane Katrina.”

“We know there is a transportation issue between Miami and Puerto Rico, but we also know other Caribbean countries like the Dominican Republic and Cuba are either providing credible aid that is getting through, or will be soon. The same is not consistently true with the United States,” Javier notes.

Cell tower collapse in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s cell phone network remains almost completely offline, with some small exceptions in larger communities like San Juan, where one-third of the city’s cell towers are back up and running, often on generator power.

“Providers have claimed, without credibly knowing, that their towers are offline because of power interruptions, but once they visit those cell sites they will find a number of them have been badly damaged and will need to be replaced,” Javier said. “Some of the towers being reported restored are working because of temporary low-power portable cell sites that do not have the coverage of the original tower, but something is better than nothing.”

The FCC claims more than 90% of the island remains without cell service, and virtually 100% are without cable or landline service. Residents and officials on the ground confirm that, with some minor exceptions, and note the most reliable service they have are the satellite phones provided by FEMA and kept in government offices. Some private businesses like Home Depot also have them. Satellite internet access is available in some rural locations, and where it works, it has attracted large crowds of locals trying to connect to the outside world to get messages through.

“The Dominicans are supplying Puerto Rico with backup generators for cell towers which will help, but we will need an army of people to help clear damaged infrastructure before we can repair or replace it,” writes Javier.

Those satellite phones and very limited internet access have allowed some important reports to get through. Univision is collecting regular reports at least daily from various social networking communities and publishing regular updates. We have collected the latest telecom-related developments to share with readers.

ADJUNTAS

Mayor Jaime Barlucea Maldonado: “We have not lost lives and access to all neighborhoods is enabled,” explained Barlucea who also said he has re-established communications with San Juan via Ponce. Tertiary roads are impassable and residents in Utuado cannot cross through Adjuntas. Half the area has no drinking water, doctors fled the health center and medicines are almost gone.

Besides the government communications network, ordinary residents do not have reliable landline or wireless service at this time.

AGUADA

The government confirmed two deaths — both police officers who drowned in a river. Mayor Manuel Gabina, said the town is “devastated” and that there are eight thousand families that lost everything they owned, including their homes. The Guanabanos and Jaguey Chiquito bridges are “damaged or about to collapse.”

Gabina collected enough supplies to last the town a month, but “water and shelter for the displaced” are in short supply, as are supermarkets and gas stations. Phone service is somewhat working in Aguada and Moca, and locals are sharing phone lines to stay in touch.

AGUADILLA

Aguadilla was spared the worst of the storm and food and water has already reached this municipality and the airport is now prepared to receive military-supplied relief flights. Road cleanup is ahead of schedule and Wi-Fi access is returning in some areas like the Burger King on PR-2 highway. Families have flocked there to send messages out.

AGUAS BUENAS

Mayor Javier García Pérez reported that some 3,000 families lost their residences in Aguas Buenas. The worst affected areas are Santa Clara, Las Corujas sector, Parcelas Bayamoncito, and the neighborhood of Juan Asencio. There is a major water shortage and many of the transmission towers for electricity and wireless service have collapsed.

“We are more likely to have water than electricity first,” said the mayor. There is no working cell service, the hospital is closed, and roads have been gridlocked because of reports six gas stations are open in the community.

Alicea

AIBONITO

Mayor Willie Alicea reported this morning the entire area is still without cell phone or internet access. But relief did arrive in some forms:

  • 40,000 gallons of gas arrived.
  • Commercial businesses are open, operating and serving food.
  • The supermarkets are open.
  • About 2,500 volunteers are clearing the roads, helping with traffic and in operations.
  • All roads are open to vehicular traffic with the exception of the Cuyón neighborhood.

AÑASCO

In Añasco, the roads are still blocked and communication is scarce, at best. No significant reports since Sunday.

ARECIBO

On its Facebook page, the municipal government indicated that damages in the city were “disastrous” and that “no area of ​​Arecibo has the resources of water, electricity and communications.” Some areas of the municipality are still isolated. At least three bridges collapsed in the municipality: one in the neighborhood Jaguar, another in Bajadero and one between Calichoza and Esperanza.

Promised diesel fuel has not arrived.

ARROYO

There is very little updated information available about the municipality of Arroyo. A few that managed to enter the outskirts report it was unrecognizable because of the destruction. All cell towers have been destroyed. Temporary antennas are expected… eventually. The damaged utility infrastructure is, in some cases, hanging directly above or near the roads.

BARCELONETA

Town has water but no electricity. Gasoline is usually not available. Cellular service is possible if you go to the outskirts of town.

Barranquitas

BARRANQUITAS

Large sections of community unrecognizable because of lack of vegetation and number of homes destroyed. Electric and phone cables are on the ground “everywhere” and there is no road service between Barranquitas and Naranjito. Obviously, communications are sporadic.

BAYAMÓN

Cell service sporadic but functional in some areas. This area survived Maria with less damage than others.

CABO ROJO

Mayor Roberto Ramírez is going door to door with a satellite phone to every home in the community allowing relatives to communicate with family members. The main roads in and out of the area are walkable, but cannot be driven on. The mayor reports 50% of homes are total losses.

CAGUAS

Some areas of the municipality have communication via cell phone.

CAMUY

The northern half of the town’s utility services have been completely obliterated. At least 460 homes destroyed and 642 uninhabitable. There is a major water shortage and residents are being told to drink nearby river water.

CANÓVANAS

The Red Cross is in town passing out snack packs. Rural roads are collapsed and impassable. Telecom services are spotty.

CAROLINA

Doing better than some. All urban roads are open. Mayor Jose Carlos Aponte reports 95% of rural roads open and 30% of bridges have been cleaned of debris.

“Carolina suffered a great impact and is seen with the great amount of residences of wood and zinc that were destroyed by the strong winds. The areas of Barrazas, Cacao, Santa Cruz and Carruzo were the most affected,” he said.

Utility infrastructure has been seriously damaged and will have to be rebuilt.

Cataño

CATAÑO

Cataño has suffered some of the worst flooding caused by Hurricane Maria as it passed through the island. About 60% of the 28,000 people in the town are now homeless and in some areas, 80% of structures were damaged.

The mayor of Cataño, Felix Delgado Montalvo, said Tuesday that municipal officials are trying to visit every residence in the municipality to bring aid to the victims and asked people to be calm.

Nearly 1,000 utility poles fell in the community and will need to be replaced.

CAYEY

Cayey Mayor Rolando Ortiz Velázquez told WKAQ 580 AM on Monday that the municipality already has opened access to all communities, vehicular traffic or walking. The community was hit hard, but the city authorities are handing out bottled water and the town has enough food on hand.

In this municipality there are complete sectors of communities in Farallón, Guavate and El Polvorín that lost their wooden houses. Access to neighboring municipalities like Cidra, Aibonito, Guayama and Salinas is limited at the moment.

CEIBA

A “desolate environment” with lots of vegetation, blocked streets and families affected. Reporter Bárbara Figueroa reports that the governor’s house was “totally destroyed.”

The state of telecommunications in the area is unknown.

A Hurricane Maria victim.

CIALES

All the bridges of Ciales collapsed with the passage of Hurricane Maria, Angel Perez, director of the Emergency Management Center told local media.

There is extensive damage to homes, fallen ceilings, destroyed walls, lack of water and electricity.

CIDRA

On its roads there are fallen trees, branches, traffic lights, roofs and signs on the ground, as shown by a tour of El Nuevo Dia by the municipality.

Road 172, which leads from Caguas to Cidra, “is devastated, totally destroyed,” said Cidra Mayor Javier Carrasquillo in an interview with Primera Hora. Virtually all power lines and cement posts are on the ground, he added.

COAMO

A San Juan resident said that in the absence of communication with part of her family, she made a trip to Coamo to see how they were.

“Most of the damage was to wooden structures, zinc roofs, and glass,” said Isabella Scalley Fernandez. “There are many trees and power lines on the ground.”

COMERÍO

According to El Nuevo Día, the mayor of Comerío, Josian Santiago expressed concern about shrinking water and fuel supplies. Some parts of the area resemble a third world country and are still inaccessible.

Looters struck a warehouse of the Econo supermarket after the hurricane and stripped the warehouse clean of supplies.

“It was a scene worthy of a zombie series or movie,” the paper said.

Power and electricity may not be back until sometime in 2018.

COROZAL

This mountainous, rural area took a severe beating and remains mostly inaccessible, but some expeditions found the local population did survive the storm. Utility infrastructure decimated.

CULEBRA

The island of Culebra, 85 miles east of Puerto Rico, is a major staging ground for hurricane relief for the main island. There remains a lack of electricity, but that is primarily because the island relies on a diesel generator to supply power. With deliveries spotty, electricity could go in and out of service. The island has communication problems and has not been able to communicate with the central government. To the east of Culebra and in high elevation areas, some cell service is available. That is where people are flocking to try and communicate with their friends and families on Puerto Rico.

DORADO

There is no water or communications, except at the airport.

FAJARDO

The ports of Vieques, Fajardo and Culebra have reopened, local Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón reported Monday afternoon at a press conference at the Convention Center. The official said that these ports are “open and operational for the transportation of passengers.” However, he clarified that the traffic will be “restricted” by the lack of electricity.

Thousands of utility poles were knocked down in the storm, taking the wiring with them. Cell service is spotty, but some Claro customers are getting limited service.

FLORIDA

Most of the homes in Florida were flooded and suffered some damage. The municipality is without electricity and without water. All utility cables are on the ground. Unless a residence was constructed of concrete, it no longer exists. There is no telecom service in Florida.

Even concrete poles no match for Maria.

GUÁNICA

Most of the community’s utility services no longer exist because of downed wires and fallen poles.

GUAYANILLA

Survived better than many. Its biggest problem seems to be establishing contact with San Juan.

GUAYNABO

Significant damage. Cell service did better in this area than most, with 20% of the cell towers working. Several banks and businesses are already resuming operations in several municipalities. Looting has grown to be a problem, however. So have curfew violations.

GURABO

Another area with decimated telecom infrastructure. Utility networks may have to be rebuilt from the ground up.

HATILLO

Hatillo Mayor Jose “Chely” Rodriguez said that “hundreds and hundreds” of homes in his municipality were destroyed. “It’s catastrophic.”

Facebook users indicate the only phone service for miles is at the Home Depot, which is lending out satellite phones residents are using to contact families and friends.

HORMIGUEROS

There is very little information about Hormigueros. The National Meteorological Service extended to this Tuesday at 8:30 pm the flood warning for Hormigueros, among other villages in the west, interior and central north of the island with warning of possible floods. The electric grid was essentially destroyed, but the town’s infrastructure fared better. The only news the town gets is from the radio.

HUMACAO

Fared reasonably well in comparison to some other areas. Its utility infrastructure was damaged, but is repairable and restorable.

Damaged Guajataca Dam

ISABELA

The damaged Guajataca Dam continues to endanger Isabela. If it fails, it could seriously endanger Isabela. The National Weather Service extended the flood alert until Wednesday at 2:00 pm due to a possible total failure of the dam.

Mayor Carlos Altieri reports “terrible” damage to buildings and 80% of the electrical infrastructure is gone. Drinking water supplies have dwindled in Isabela and five other towns in the area. The local hospital is no longer air-conditioned and there is a medicine shortage. The mayor admitted he can no longer communicate with the authorities in San Juan due to growing telecommunications outages. Also, his satellite phone no longer works.

JAYUYA

Completely inaccessible except by helicopter. The town is completely cut off and incommunicado.

JUANA DÍAZ

Also effectively inaccessible due to fallen bridges. Significant damage and supplies dwindling.

JUNCOS

Claro reported it is working to reestablish the mobile network in the area and 20% in the municipality of Juncos had service again. There are two gas stations open in the area, with lines that stretched for more than half a mile. Supermarkets are rationing the sale of food.

LAJAS

Lajas has no electricity or telecom services working except some limited cell service from Claro in some areas. Most mobile phones have no lost their charge and with no way to recharge them, it may not make much difference. Most are traveling to Mayagüez or Ponce if they want to make or receive calls reliably.’

LARES

Although telecommunications service is out, the community fared acceptably well if you weren’t impacted by a landslide. But bodies in area graveyards were scattered all over the area, creating a potential health risk.

Villafañe

LAS MARÍAS

Although less is known about what is happening on the western half of Puerto Rico, the secretary of the governor, William Villafañe, managed to visit Las Marías, one of the municipalities where the least official information has gotten out due to difficulty to accessing then area and the lack of roads. There is significant damage to utility infrastructure, and this area is unlikely to get attention before larger communities have service restored.

LAS PIEDRAS

Mayor Miguel López reported the entire area was without power and facilities are severely damaged. At least 90% of utility poles and lines are damaged, likely beyond repair. Wind gusts reached 205mph, which also took out the enormous concrete pylons holding the regional high voltage power lines that act as the island’s electricity backbone. These will have to be rebuilt entirely.

LOÍZA

Flooding did the most damage to infrastructure in this area. Power is completely out, but some families acquired solar panels and are powering some bare essentials with them. This coastal area took significant storm surge damage.

LUQUILLO

The medical center no longer exists and looting of alcohol and the antisocial behavior that accompanies it is becoming a serious problem. The town has no functioning communication with the outside world.

Looking for the missing in Manatí.

MANATÍ

“My people do not have water, people are collecting water from a swimming pool,” said the mayor of Manatí José Sánchez in an interview with newspaper Nuevo Dia on Monday morning on the impossibility of solving problems with water supply. “I cannot make excuses that they have to do tests when we have a faucet. I can warn the inhabitants that it is not drinkable but we need to get water soon.”

“All the municipalities in my district are incommunicado,” said Rodríguez Aguiló. “There is not a single wooden house that has not been damaged. The damage to the electrical system was serious, as was the deforestation in Ciales, Manatí and Florida.”

MARICAO

This town has not been heard from since the hurricane. No information available.

MAUNABO

“Almost all of the structures are damaged. Many wooden houses suffered total loss,” the municipality explained.

El Nuevo Día reported looting at the Maunabo Diagnostic and Treatment Center, which began after the roof was blown during the hurricane and flooded. The members of the Office of Emergency Management, who went to the site to settle the robbery, moved the equipment to the municipal headquarters.

Manaubo is incommunicado. In Maunabo, 11 of the 12 telecommunication towers that allow cell phones to function are out of order, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in its latest report.

A common sight in Mayaguez.

MAYAGUEZ

Evelyn Vázquez, a senator in Puerto Rico, reported mayors in the western zone of Puerto Rico were supplied with satellite phones so they can stay in touch with San Juan authorities. But many and lending the phones out to residents to alert friends and families about their status. The cost – up to $10 a minute, is irrelevant to both island and federal government authorities. The mayor of Mayagüez says the first urgency is water and gas in western areas. Then electricity and telecommunications services can be restored once basic needs are met. In many western communities there is a lack of potable water, bread, coffee, and ice. Diesel is also in short supply, which worries public officials because of the impossibility of generator power without adequate fuel.

Utility infrastructure was reportedly in the poorest condition on the western side of Puerto Rico, some more than 50 years old and barely inspected. Almost all of that succumbed to the hurricane force winds, landslides, or flooding. Timely upgrades may have made a difference, but now the much greater expense of rebuilding the networks from scratch will begin.

MOCA

“The people who have relatives in Moca, do not worry. Everyone has been taken care of. Nobody has died in our town of Moca,” said Mayor Kiko Avilés late Friday. But Moca’s telecom networks are not operating at all and most communities around Moca cannot be reached except by amateur radio. Utility infrastructure was poor before the storm. Now a lot of it is destroyed.

MOROVIS

A lot of damage is still ongoing in the territory because of ongoing landslides after every rain storm. The mayor reports the town was “devastated” and there are continued headaches from major landslides across the region. The San Lorenzo Bridge collapsed leaving no access to Pasto, Vagas, and San Lorenzo. Many area roads are impassible because of downed trees, power lines, and landslides. Volunteers are now attempting to use machetes to cut their way through to incommunicado communities not heard from since the hurricane. There is no communications services working in the area.

NAGUABO

Electrical service, which had been suspended since before the hurricane hit, cannot be restored due to network damage. A public communications center has been established in the parking lot of the Benigno Ramos Coliseum so residents can use satellite phones to communicate with relatives. Access to the area is very difficult from the outside because of the large number of fallen trees. The electrical grid was severely damaged, taking with it the telephone network. As a result utility services have collapsed with no estimate when they can be resumed.

NARANJITO

There have been few updates from this town. The mayor reported “massive destruction” but no loss of life. The community’s most vulnerable areas were emptied before the hurricane with a mandatory evacuation. Pedestrian bridges are essentially unusable and PR-811, the main road into town, is completely blocked by masses of debris.

OROCOVIS

No reports since Sunday, when the town complained there was little recovery machinery and no diesel to power it. Local authorities were asking for water and supplies to clear the roads in and out of town. The town’s amateur radio operators successfully established a repeater transmitter that allows Orocovis, essentially in the dead center of the territory, to act as a relay point for messages to and from southern Puerto Rico. The radio service is about the only thing working. Satellite phones are not functioning due to power losses. Wireline and wireless networks are not functioning.

PATILLAS

The municipality of Patillas is located nine miles from Yabucoa, where the eye of the hurricane landed. The area resembles what an area looks like after a major tornado rampages through a town. Utility poles and trees are down, and what trees remain are completely without foliage. The village is without electricity, although some people have generators. There are fallen light poles, cables on the ground, many blocking roads.

PEÑUELAS

“Peñuelas is totally destroyed in terms of structures,” said Mayor Torres Maldonado. “State aid has not arrived.”

Utility networks did not fare well either. A lot of downed power poles and lines have left much of the area without any telecommunications services.

PONCE

Officials report the entire city is without electricity although there are sectors with water. There are trees, electric lines and traffic lights down on roads. One official stated that restoring the Ciudad Señorial will take more than a month. Other areas of Ponce should expect little electricity or telecom service for weeks, although wireless should be restored in urban areas if fiber backhaul infrastructure connecting the cell towers with providers has not been damaged.

QUEBRADILLAS

The mayor, Heriberto Velez, said that hundreds are homeless, there are businesses that lost everything and the number of utility poles broken and on the ground around the village is staggering.

“I never imagined something like this. I did not think this could happen,” Vélez said.

“I’ve worked for the Authority for 26 years, it’s the first time I’ve seen broken concrete posts,” Edwin Alicea said, referring to the “hurricane resistant” concrete utility poles.

Hurricane shelter in Rincón, PR.

RINCÓN

The mayor of Rincón, Carlos López, continues to demand water for his town, as well as fuel and electric generators to maintain the shelter. He compared the impact of the hurricane to a nuclear bomb.

The mayor explained that the municipality, with 15,000 inhabitants, has no water supply and that the situation is very difficult but asked the citizens a little more calm and patience.

RÍO GRANDE

“We have no electricity, no water, no cellular service, and no gas, since the lines at each gas station are hundreds of cars long,” reported one resident. Mayor Angel Bori Gonzalez reported there is no cell service in the area.

SABANA GRANDE

Unconfirmed reports indicate there is limited phone and internet service, but no electricity. Scattered reports suggest there is running water and most of the flooding was in areas that routinely flood in storms. Unfortunately, there is no official confirmation of these reports.

SALINAS

Mayor Karylin Bonilla counted 3,000 wooden houses with zinc roofs damaged by Hurricane Maria. Some can be recovered. Bonilla reported that while there is a lot of damage to the infrastructure, there were no human losses. All residents have been advised that telephone services are expected to be offline for an undetermined amount of time and they should go to the mayor’s house or Carlos Colón Burgos High School to seek or share information.

SAN GERMÁN

There is limited mobile and landline service in this area. Claro had 20% of its network in the area up and running again. Most of the damage in this area was caused by fallen trees. Some callers reported they could get through to landlines, but multiple attempts were required.

SAN JUAN

The mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, said that the priorities of San Juan are: drinking water, hospitals, bedding, and fuel.

Cruz said the capital of Puerto Rico was essentially “destroyed” in the storm, but recovery was now underway. The biggest problems are the number of downed utility poles and traffic signals. The city is without water or power. The city was expecting to receive additional generators that are targeted for cell phone network restoration, despite the fact most cell phone companies claim they already have generators at their cell sites. Most wireless carrier outages, providers claimed, come from inaccessibility to the cell site to refill generator fuel tanks. But now there may be questions about how well prepared providers were with backup equipment and whether it functioned well.

SAN LORENZO

The only cell tower in the area that has remained in service since the hurricane is accessible from the Chayanne Expresso, located adjacent to the tower. It appears to be operating at lower than usual power/signal strength, but calls can be made and received from the area. About 80% of wood residences were damaged in the storm and there is utility infrastructure damage, but not as severe as in other areas.

SAN SEBASTIÁN

No verifiable information available.

SANTA ISABEL

The Mayor of Santa Isabel, Enrique Questell, reported the economic base of the community – agriculture, was devastated.

“We are the capital of agriculture and we lost 100% of agriculture,” Questell said.

There is no power either. Utility poles were knocked down in large masses and will have to be replaced.

TOA ALTA

Received moderate storm damage but repairable. There is no wireline or wireless service functioning in the area and power remains out.

TOA BAJA

The mayor Bernardo ‘Betito’ Márquez informed El Nuevo Día that nine deaths were recorded in Toa Baja and that some of the people would have died drowned after the opening of gates of the Lake La Plata reservoir. The State Emergency Management Agency confirmed that Toa Baja is the most affected municipality in the islands due to flooding, but few evacuated because the area historically had not flooded before. There is no electricity or functioning telecommunications services in the area.

TRUJILLO ALTO

The municipality has no internet, gas stations in service are few and that community volunteers are now cleaning the roads because no help arrived.

Jose Luis Cruz Cruz, mayor of Trujillo Alto, said the municipality was “devastated” and was trying to break through on the main roads to reconnect with the rest of the island. The mayor reported that trees, electric lighting and street poles had fallen, so he asked citizens to be patient while they were cleaning. Outages remain widespread.

Flooding in Vega Baja

UTUADO

Electricity is out and most cell towers remain non-operational.

Univision journalist Carmen Graciela Díaz received information from her father about the precarious situation of this municipality.

“There is no water, there is no light, everything is a horror. It will be a very slow process to recover,” said Victor Diaz, owner of San Miguel Pharmacy in the center of town and life long resident.

But some landline phones are starting to work where infrastructure remains in place.

VEGA ALTA

The Mayor of Vega Alta, Oscar Santiago, reported 90% of the houses of wood and zinc in the municipality of Vega Alta were lost. Vega Alta village officials said they had not been able to reach the Fatima neighborhood and were particularly concerned about residents of a nursing home, according to the AP news agency. There is no way to reach the Fatima community because the bridge collapsed. Power remains out and telecommunications services are very spotty.

VEGA BAJA

In this area the floods reached more than 10 feet. Residents who were stranded shouted “Save me, save me,” using the lights on their cell phones to help rescue crews find them in the dark, said City Mayor Marco Cruz.

Reports indicate despite the flooding, services are being restored and wired and wireless phones are working in some areas intermittently.

Villalba

VIEQUES

There is no diesel or petrol on the island, which means that the machinery to remove debris cannot work. In addition, the last ferry with provisions arrived in Vieques five days ago, so supplies are running out.

The island’s mayor, Víctor Emeric, “if the Maritime Transport Authority does not return the system as soon as possible, there will be chaos with food, medicines, everything,” he said in a phone call to Primera Hora.

Telecommunications services are out.

VILLALBA

Completely isolated and without reliable communications, Villalba Mayor Luis Javier Hernandez told WKAQ 580 AM that they have been trying to open the main roads of the municipality for three days and that they managed to clear PR-149, PR-150 and open breaches in PR-151 towards Orocovis, but it is unsafe “and can collapse at any time.”

There are numerous communities in the mountainous municipality that “no longer exist” because of “complete destruction,” warned Hernandez. Many rural roads remain impassable even for pedestrians. Food was running out and the mayor was planning to break the locks on area schools and businesses to access food for the community.

YABUCOA

Rafael Surrillo, mayor of Yabucoa, reports 99% of structures in the municipal area collapsed.

Yabucoa is the town on the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico where the eye of Hurricane Maria entered and damages were most severe. Communications services are non-existent and there is no electricity.

YAUCO

“To all residents of Yauco, Yauco citizens outside of Puerto Rico and relatives outside of the city, the Honorable Mayor Luigui Torres wants to inform that Yauco has not reported any deaths. There is no communication anywhere in our city.”

Verizon Wireless’ Great Rural Purge: Tens of Thousands Losing Cell Service

Herding rural customers off Verizon Wireless.

Nearly 20,000 rural Verizon Wireless customers in states like Maine, Michigan, North Dakota, and Montana are being notified their cell service is being terminated because they spend too much time roaming outside of a Verizon Wireless coverage area.

Verizon Wireless won’t say exactly how many customers it recently sent letters to advising them that because they have used “a significant amount of data while roaming off the Verizon Wireless network,” their service will be terminated Oct. 17.

“We’re providing advance notice to these customers so they have plenty of time to port their wireless number to another company before their Verizon Wireless service ends,” Verizon spokesperson Laura Meritt stated. “We regularly review accounts with data use that primarily takes place outside of the Verizon network.”

Verizon denies reports as many as 19,000 customers are losing service as a result of the purge, but their representatives are routinely quoting that number to customers and officials calling Verizon to complain.

Customers have no recourse and if they don’t port their number to another service provider by the termination date, their number will be disconnected and lost for good. The only good news? Verizon wants to disconnect customers so badly, they are willing to forgive the remaining owed balances for any devices financed through Verizon.

Maine

In Winter Harbor, many Verizon Wireless customers reportedly received the same letter, including the town’s police chief Danny Mitchell, who is concerned about the impact Verizon’s decision will have on local public safety.

“From a public safety standpoint, a lot of our 911 calls come in via mobile phone. And when you have less towers or less service to ping off from, then your area of location, instead of getting more specific in the location, is gonna get wider,” Mitchell told WLBZ-TV in Bangor.

Maine’s Public Advocate is concerned as well, and noted this is what happens when unfettered deregulation of telecommunications services give providers the right to terminate any customer for any reason.

“The Office of the Public Advocate is concerned about the well-being of all Maine residents,” the agency wrote. “This loss of wireless communication underscores the importance of our landline network to ensure that individuals can contact public safety officials in the event of an emergency.  Verizon’s actions raise new concerns that areas once deemed a competitive marketplace for telecommunications will once again be served only by their landline provider.  This possibility should be considered as the de-regulation of landline telephone continues throughout the state.”

Public Advocate Barry Hobbins thinks it all comes down to money.

“Because it’s not cost-effective for them, now they’re going to pull the plug — and basically pull the plug on 2,000 customers — then that becomes an issue,” he says.

The decision to terminate an estimated 2,000 customers in rural Maine alone is especially stinging to residents, public safety officials, and community leaders because they bent over backwards to get Verizon Wireless to expand its coverage area in the state.

In 2015, communities in Washington and eastern Hancock counties joined forces to make life easier for Verizon in return for expansion of cell service in the region, quickly approving more than a dozen new cell towers adjacent to well-traveled Routes 1 and 9.

Mitchell said residents are more than a little annoyed that Verizon is kicking them off after all that they’ve done for the company.

In 2015, the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) insured, at the public’s expense, a $3.4 million loan for Wireless Partners, LLC of Portland to enhance Verizon’s 4G LTE network with up to 32 new cell towers for those counties.

FAME Board Chair Raymond Nowak said at the time, “It is our hope that the planned communication improvements by Wireless Partners will support business expansion, emergency services, and the tourism industry in Maine. Such partnerships are a key part of FAME’s strategy to support infrastructure that enables the success of other businesses.”

“We are pleased to be partnering with FAME and Mechanics Savings Bank on this important project,” added Bob Parsloe, president and CEO of Wireless Partners, LLC. “This project will make it possible for people who live, work and recreate in Downeast Maine to have reliable 4G LTE broadband and voice cellular service that allows them to be connected like the rest of the world.”

Not anymore.

“[People are] going to come out their door every day, look at a cellphone tower and say, ‘Hey, I can’t connect to that because Verizon won’t let me,’” Mitchell said.

Letter from Verizon Wireless terminating service for “excessive roaming.”

In fact, Verizon Wireless customers who don’t live in the area, along with customers of other wireless companies who happen to be roaming while traveling, will be able to use those cell towers while former local Verizon Wireless customers cannot.

Law enforcement and public safety officials feel a little bait-and-switched by the decision.

Sheriff Curtis

Washington County Sheriff Barry Curtis says his department is still trying to wrap their heads around what Verizon Wireless is doing. But he seems confident it could adversely affect the department’s ability to stay in touch with law enforcement officials and respond quickly to calls. The decision could, in his view, set back the county several years.

“It’s kind of difficult sitting in this seat as far as being the sheriff here,” he says. “I’m in contact with the commissioners. I’m hoping that they’re going to be stepping up to the plate here, assisting us in this too — filing their complaints. We’re going to need all the help we can get here.”

With a chorus of complaints across rural Maine, officials at Wireless Partners have launched their own damage control effort to point the finger of blame at Verizon Wireless, and claim they had no idea the wireless company was pulling the plug on so many customers.

“Access to 4G LTE is an essential 21st century infrastructure need and it is the mission of Wireless Partners to meet that need in rural, underserved areas of Maine and New Hampshire,” said Wireless Partners CEO Bob Parsloe. “To that end, Wireless Partners built, owns, operates, and is expanding a Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network in Downeast Maine. Along with our network users, we were blindsided to learn that Verizon Wireless mailed subscription cancellation notices to their customers on this network. Wireless Partners was not given advance warning that Verizon Wireless was planning to restrict new customers nor terminate existing customers. We were only made aware of this development from concerned Verizon Wireless customers who were in receipt of the cancellation notification.”

Parsloe did hint at what is motivating Verizon to drop its own customers.

“Verizon Wireless did ask Wireless Partners to assist them in reducing the contractually agreed costs of using our networks,” Parsloe added. “Wireless Partners promptly informed Verizon that it was ready to address their concerns. At no point during this dialogue, which continues in earnest, did Verizon Wireless indicate to us their intent to restrict new customers and cancel current customers.”

Maine’s Public Advocate believes Verizon’s resumption of its unlimited data plan is probably costing the company more than it anticipated in roaming data charges levied by third party cooperating providers like Wireless Partners. In rural areas, private companies and independent providers often lease their networks to larger cellular companies like Verizon to enhance rural coverage and avoid exposing customers to punitive roaming charges. As far as customers are aware, they are using Verizon’s home network and there are no indications on their devices they are roaming.

Hobbins adds Verizon is doing this “all over the country” and residents in Maine — with large expanses of rural areas, are just among the first to react. But it annoys him that Verizon is implying in its letters that customers are doing something wrong. In fact, he says, they were simply using the service plan that Verizon sold them.

“It appears that Verizon induced these companies to build out in the rural areas around the country and then significantly promoted it by saying that they’re covering the rural areas when it fact now after putting those ads out, they’re now not covering the rural areas — in fact, they’re cutting it back,” Hobbins said.

Michigan

Tuscola County, Mich.

In mid-Michigan, customers are also getting termination letters from Verizon Wireless. In Tuscola County, Frank Rouse says he routinely spends $275 a month on four lines with Verizon Wireless and has been a customer for years. But Verizon is kicking him to the curb.

“I was pretty livid. I called customer service and I wasn’t real pleasant with them,” Rouse said, claiming he was furious when he opened the letter. “Why not do something proactive and maybe put up a tower in the area or something to keep the customers and draw in new customers.”

Mid-Michigan residents already have just a few choices for cell service, and now there is one fewer.

For Jamie Hay, it isn’t all bad news. He will lose his Verizon Wireless account but scored more than $3,600 in free phones and tablets he acquired for his family of six just two weeks before getting the letter.

“I made one payment and now I get to keep everything for free because Verizon is closing my account, voiding my payment plans and reporting all devices as now effectively paid in full,” Hay tells Stop the Cap! “Thanks to every other Verizon Wireless customer for covering my fabulous new phones and iPad!”

WNEM-TV in Michigan reports some customers are furious about being terminated by Verizon Wireless, and the company isn’t saying much. (1:32)

North Dakota

SRT Communications’ coverage map in North Dakota.

At least several hundred customers were notified across North Dakota that their Verizon Wireless service would also be terminated on Oct. 17. For many, once Verizon is no longer an option, cell service is no longer an option. Customers tell Stop the Cap! northern parts of the state are already reeling from North Dakota-based SRT Communications’ decision to exit the wireless business after 20 years. The company said it can no longer compete against larger companies like AT&T and Verizon and lack the resources to continue upgrades.

Customers are being encouraged to switch to Verizon Wireless, and Verizon has bought SRT’s spectrum and promised to improve coverage as part of the deal. But now some customers have been told they will not be able to keep their SRT service or Verizon Wireless much longer.

Montana
“Dropped like a bad habit,” as he put it, Kyle Wasson is among an unknown number of Verizon Wireless customers in Montana losing their Verizon service on Oct. 17.

Wasson, who was nearing a decade as a Verizon Wireless customer, is now no longer wanted, according to the letter he received: “We will no longer offer service for the numbers listed above since your primary place of use is outside the Verizon Wireless network” and “we discovered you are using a significant amount of data while roaming off the Verizon Wireless network.”

Northern Montana

Wasson had switched to Verizon’s unlimited data plan which he suspects might have had something to do with Verizon’s decision. Wasson doesn’t have many options in the town of Loring, 15 miles south of the Canadian border.

Neither does Brandi Horn in Harlem or Sue Hagen of Scobey — also told their Verizon service was being terminated next month.

“There is no better service in rural Montana than Verizon,” Horn said. “It’s going to be hard finding an affordable and high-coverage service now.”

LTE in Rural America (LRA) Program Implicated in Disconnections

Observers suspect the crackdown on rural roaming is primarily affecting customers served by the 21 partners Verizon has enrolled in its (LRA) program.

Under the program, LRA members lease Verizon’s 700MHz Upper C Block spectrum. Partners have access to Verizon’s network vendors and discounts and can sell the same equipment Verizon offers its customers in their stores. But the 21 companies are responsible for financing and building their own networks and can sell service independent of Verizon. In return, Verizon customers can “roam” on those networks as if they were still within Verizon’s home network. Verizon’s partners gain access to resources to build out their own LTE 4G networks and have a certain amount of effectively guaranteed traffic from Verizon customers in their service areas.

Verizon has leased out LTE spectrum covering 225,000 square miles in 169 rural counties in 15 different states. The company said more than 1,000 LTE cell sites have been built and switched on through the program, covering 2.7 million people.

But Verizon does not have the capacity to throttle or deprioritize traffic on third-party networks, meaning customers enrolled in an unlimited data plan can use as much data as they want on partner networks. There is a strong likelihood Verizon has to compensate those providers at premium rates for network traffic generated by their customers.

That means customers are at the highest risk of being disconnected if they are on an unlimited data plan and use their Verizon devices in areas served by these providers — all participants in the LRA program:

Bluegrass Cellular; Cross Telephone; Pioneer Cellular; Cellcom; Thumb Cellular; Strata Networks; S and R Communications; Carolina West; Custer Telephone Cooperative; KPU Telecommunications; Chariton Valley Communication Corporation; Appalachian Wireless; Northwest Missouri Cellular; Chat Mobility; Matanuska Telephone Association; Wireless Partners; Triangle Communications; Nemont; Mid-Rivers Communications and Copper Valley Telecom.

T-Mobile Giving Away Free Netflix to its ONE Family Plan Customers

John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile USA

T-Mobile ONE family plans now come with a free subscription to Netflix, the wireless carrier announced today.

“Now, the Un-carrier is going ALL IN on unlimited by adding Netflix — the world’s leading entertainment service — to T-Mobile ONE family plans,” T-Mobile said in a press release. “Which means anyone with two or more qualifying T-Mobile ONE lines can get Netflix On Us. And T-Mobile ONE with unlimited everything — and now with Netflix included — is still just $40 per line for a family of four. As always, monthly taxes and fees are included.”

“The future of mobile entertainment is not about bolting a satellite dish to the side of your house or resuscitating faded 90’s dotcoms. The future is mobile, over-the-top and unlimited,” said John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile. “While the carriers spend billions on their franken-strategies to cobble together carrier–cable–content mashups, the Un-carrier just leapfrogged them all by partnering with the best and giving it to customers at no extra charge. Because that’s what we always do. Give more to you without asking more from you.”

T-Mobile claimed the move to incorporate Netflix into its included services is part of a new campaign to further irritate AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Both of the larger carriers have been making acquisitions of content companies with the hope you will boost your mobile bill by bundling services like Go90 and DirecTV Now into your package. By giving away Netflix free to qualified customers, T-Mobile can argue its package remains a much better value and its network can handle the added streaming video load.

“Carrier bundles are almost always a combination of something you want and something you don’t … all in an effort to jack up your monthly bill even more,” T-Mobile argued. “Worse, carrier bundles are usually designed to explode after the “introductory promo” runs out, and customers are stuck paying hundreds more each year. T-Mobile’s strategy couldn’t be any more different. The Un-carrier sees an opportunity to do mobile entertainment right for today’s families … to give you something you want together with something else you want – but at no extra cost.”

The details:

Starting Tuesday, September 12th, qualifying T-Mobile ONE customers can activate their Netflix subscription online, in-store or by calling T-Mobile’s customer care. If you already have a Netflix subscription, T-Mobile will cover the cost of a standard subscription for you — meaning you’ll save nearly $120 every year. To qualify, all you need are two or more paid voice lines on T-Mobile ONE. Customers with free lines from T-Mobile’s “line-on-us” deals also qualify. Customers on Unlimited 55+ or 2 lines for $100 can get Netflix On Us by switching to the latest T-Mobile ONE plan. T-Mobile ONE families who get Netflix On Us will also get T-Mobile’s Family Allowances at no extra charge. Family Allowances allow parents to manage their kids’ phone usage — like setting guidelines for talk time, text messages, download times and which numbers their kids can contact.

John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile USA, introduces Netflix on Us and roasts his competitors AT&T and Verizon Wireless. (6:10)

John Oliver’s Newest Net Neutrality Plea Crashed the FCC’s Website

John Oliver returns to defend Net Neutrality, and provide a simpler way for ordinary Americans to share their views with the FCC.

John Oliver is back.

As Donald Trump’s FCC chairman Ajit Pai lays the groundwork for an all-out repeat of Net Neutrality, Oliver spent 20 minutes of his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” this past weekend pleading for Americans to come out and protect a free and open internet, just as he did three years earlier.

“It seems that the Trump-era will basically Ctrl-Z everything that happened on Obama’s watch,” Oliver said. “I genuinely would not be surprised if one night Trump went on TV just to tell us he personally killed every turkey Obama ever pardoned.”

“Every internet group needs to come together like you successfully did three years ago,” Oliver told his audience. “Gamers, YouTube celebrities, Instagram models, Tom from MySpace — if you’re still alive. We need all of you. You cannot say you are too busy when 540,000 of you commented on Beyonce’s pregnancy announcement.”

To help ordinary Americans navigate the FCC’s arcane electronic comments filing system, Oliver launched GoFCCYourself.com, a website dedicated to getting comments about Net Neutrality registered with the FCC.

His viewers responded, and promptly crashed the FCC’s website with an overwhelming amount of traffic. The same thing happened in 2014 when Oliver’s public plea helped produce millions of comments in favor of Net Neutrality. As of this afternoon, the FCC website is still slower than usual and the likely deluge of comments will keep FCC staffers busy for weeks to come.

Oliver took direct aim at Pai, noting the former Verizon lawyer said he would take a weed whacker to telecom regulations and has already threatened that Net Neutrality’s “days are numbered.”

“‘Days are numbered’ and ‘take a weed whacker’ are serial-killer talk,” Oliver said.

Oliver lampooned Pai over his repeated tweets quoting lines from the 1998 film The Big Lebowski and his oversized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup coffee mug.

“Ajit Pai is the kind of guy who has a fun, oversized novelty mug and he is really proud of it,” Oliver said.

But despite the fun-loving façade, Pai’s claims that Net Neutrality regulations were burdensome and unnecessary are not a game to internet content providers and startups that fear large telecommunications companies could rig the marketplace against them. Pai complained at a gathering held April 26 at the Newseum, sponsored in part by FreedomWorks — a group with direct ties to the Koch Brothers, that “special interests” were pushing Net Neutrality and causing a reduction in private broadband investment.

Oliver responded that Title II enforcement was essential for Net Neutrality policies to have any teeth. Pai’s desire to return to an earlier Title I enforcement mechanism for Net Neutrality was overturned by the D.C. Court of Appeals, ruling the FCC could not enforce Net Neutrality policies under Title I, and suggested Title II enforcement instead.

Last week, that same D.C. Court of Appeals elected not to review and let stand a three-judge panel’s decision that the FCC was within its rights to reclassify ISPs under Title II, a clear victory for open internet proponents.

“[That] decision is a win for consumers,” said Lisa Hayes, general counsel for the Center For Democracy and Technology. “The court agreed that Title II classification is sound, and that the FCC has authority to regulate the marketplace. Net neutrality is essential to a vibrant internet ecosystem, and CDT will continue to defend the open internet in the days and years to come.”

“The D.C. Circuit has once again confirmed that the FCC’s Open Internet rules are lawful and supported by the evidence,” said Public Knowledge senior counsel John Bergmayer. “Now, the primary threat to these important consumer protections is FCC Chairman Pai’s determination to roll them back, and to hand more power to monopolistic internet access providers.”

ISPs like Verizon are also on record stating Net Neutrality had and will continue to have no bearing on internet investment, which directly contradicts Pai’s repeated claims.

“Maybe the best way to gauge Title II’s impact is to listen to what cable companies told their own investors, to who they are legally obligated to tell the truth,” Oliver said, playing a recording of a 2014 Verizon earnings conference call quoting former chief financial officer Fran Shammo who told investors that Net Neutrality “does not influence the way we invest.”

John Oliver takes on FCC chairman Ajit Pai in Net Neutrality II from his HBO series “Last Week Tonight.” (19:32)

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