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AT&T CEO Denies Anyone in Government Asked Him to Sell CNN

Stephenson

AT&T’s top executive has found himself uncomfortably caught in a political fracas pitting Trump loyalists who want to punish CNN, career staffers that claim they are genuinely concerned about the media concentration that would result from AT&T’s multi-billion dollar acquisition of Time Warner, Inc., and Trump critics rushing to defend whatever they perceive the administration is against.

A frustrated Randall Stephenson, AT&T chairman and CEO, appeared at The New York Times Dealbook Conference in New York Thursday to talk about his astonishment that the company’s merger has become a public political hot potato that theorizes on President Donald Trump’s active dislike of CNN and opponents of the president who suspect the Trump Administration is attempting to punish the news media for its negative coverage of the president.

“I have never been told that the price of getting the deal done was selling CNN, period. And likewise I have never offered to sell CNN,” Stephenson said, refuting rumors that emerged in a Financial Times piece on Wednesday that claimed AT&T would have to dump CNN to get its merger deal approved. “There is absolutely no intention that we would ever sell CNN.”

While repeatedly stressing his conversations with the Department of Justice were strictly confidential, Stephenson was willing to publicly deny that CNN was ever discussed as part of the merger review. Stephenson was not so willing to comment on rumors the DoJ was seeking a divestiture of DirecTV, which AT&T acquired for $48.5 billion in 2014.

Stephenson declared it “makes no sense” to sell CNN or Turner Broadcasting, the Time Warner-owned division that runs TBS, CNN, Headline News, TNT and other cable channels.

“There is a lot of information and data that we think can be used to stand up a new advertising business,” Stephenson said. “Pairing that with the Turner advertising inventory is a really powerful thing, we believe. That is what we aspire to do. Selling CNN makes no sense in that context.”

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson: ‘I have never been told that the price of getting a deal done was selling CNN’ from CNBC. (2:19)

The political backlash that has since emerged may actually help AT&T’s PR effort to win approval of the deal as Trump critics now rush to defend AT&T as a victim of presidential authoritarianism.

Bloomberg News published an editorial this afternoon calling for the merger to be approved just to stick it to the Trump Administration:

You don’t have to be a fan of the merger to realize that there is something seriously wrong here. As others have noted, the merger appears to be in trouble for a worrisome reason: President Donald Trump hates CNN and wants to inflict some punishment.

That Trump has long opposed the merger is hardly a secret. During his campaign, he said that if AT&T and Time Warner were allowed to combine it would “destroy democracy.” He put out a campaign statement vowing to “break up the new media conglomerate oligopolies” that “are attempting to unduly influence America’s political process.”

As for his antipathy towards CNN, it’s been a running subplot ever since he decided to run for president. He bashed the station all through the campaign and hasn’t let up as president, accusing it of being one of the media outlets that trafficks in “fake news.” A few months ago, he shockingly tweeted an image of a train running over a CNN reporter.

Trump has every right to oppose the deal and to criticize CNN; as they say, it’s a free country. But he doesn’t have the right to bend the Justice Department to his will. Yet that appears to be what is happening. That antitrust expert who said last year that the deal didn’t pose any problems? Makan Delrahim is now the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division. And wouldn’t you know it: He’s suddenly had a change of heart about the antitrust implications of the deal.

[…] It is appalling that the Justice Department’s antitrust department appears poised to do Trump’s bidding. The good news is that AT&T has vowed to go to court if the government tries to block the merger. So far, the judiciary has been the branch of government that has stood up to the president’s authoritarian impulses. I never thought I would be rooting for two very big companies to combine into one giant company, but I am. If the AT&T-Time Warner merger goes through, it will mean that the rule of law has won. At least for now.

AT&T couldn’t be luckier if the deal becomes a referendum on whether the Trump Administration is opposing the deal as part of a personal political dispute. Suggesting it is “good news” for AT&T to go to court to win its merger may make AT&T feel better, but ordinary consumers and ratepayers are once again forgotten in the debate over media consolidation.

AT&T CEO Randal Stephenson: Sale of CNN never came up with Department of Justice from CNBC. (5:45)

The Great Telecom Merger Carousel: Altice <-> Sprint <-> T-Mobile <-> Charter

A last-ditch effort last weekend by executives of SoftBank and Deutsche Telekom to overcome their differences in merging Sprint with T-Mobile USA ended in failure, killing Wall Street’s hopes combining the two scrappiest wireless carriers would end a bruising price war that had heated up competition and hurt profits at all four of America’s leading wireless companies.

Now Wall Street, hungry for a consolidation deal, is strategizing what will come next.

Sprint/T-Mobile Merger

In the end, SoftBank’s chairman, Masayoshi Son, simply did not want to give up control of Sprint to Deutsche Telekom, especially considering Sprint’s vast wireless spectrum holdings suitable for future 5G wireless services.

The failure caused Sprint Corp. shares and bonds to plummet, and spooked investors are worried Sprint’s decade-long inability to earn a profit won’t end anytime soon. Sprint’s 2010 Network Vision Plan, which promised better coverage and network performance, also helped to load the company with debt, nearly half of which Sprint has to pay back over the next four years before it becomes due. Sprint’s perpetual upgrades have not tremendously improved its network coverage or performance, and its poor performance ratings have caused many customers to look elsewhere for wireless service.

Investors are also concerned Sprint will struggle to pay its current debts at the same time it faces new ones from investments in next generation 5G wireless technology. Scared shareholders have been comforted this morning by both Son and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure in an all-out damage control campaign.

Son has promised the now-orphaned Sprint will benefit from an increased stake in the company by SoftBank — a signal to investors SoftBank is tying itself closer to Sprint. Son has also promised additional investments to launch yet another wave of network upgrades for Sprint’s fourth place network. But nothing is expected to change very quickly for customers, who may be in for a rough ride for the immediate future. Son has already said his commitment to raise Sprint’s capital expenditures from the current $3.5-4 billion to $5-6 billion annually will not begin this year. Analysts claim Sprint needs at least $5-6 billion annually to invest in network improvements if it ever hopes to catch up to T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon Wireless.

Masayoshi Son, chairman of SoftBank Group

“Even if the next three-four years will be a tough battle, five to 10 years later it will be clear that this is a strategically invaluable business,’’ Son said, lamenting losing control of that business in a deal with T-Mobile was simply impossible. “There was just a line we couldn’t cross, and that’s how we arrived at the conclusion.”

During a call with analysts on Monday, Sprint’s chief financial officer Tarek Robbiati acknowledged investors’ disappointment.

Investors were hoping for an end to deep discounting and perks given to attract new business. T-Mobile’s giveaways and discounting have reduced the company’s profitability. Sprint’s latest promotions, including giving away service for up to a year, were seen by analysts as desperate.

Son’s own vision plan doesn’t dwell on the short-term, mapping out SoftBank’s progress over the next 300 years. But for now, Son is concerned with supporting the investments already made in the $100 billion Vision Fund Son has built with Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth-fueled Public Investment Fund. Its goal is to lead in the field of next generation wireless communications networks. Sprint is expected to be a springboard for those investments in the United States, supported by the wireless company’s huge 2.5GHz spectrum holdings, which may be perfect for 5G wireless networks.

But Son’s own failures are also responsible for Sprint’s current plight. Son attempted to cover his losses in Sprint by pursuing a merger with T-Mobile in 2014, but the merger fell apart when it became clear the Obama Administration’s regulators were unlikely to approve the deal. After that deal fell apart, Son has allowed T-Mobile to overtake Sprint’s third place position in the wireless market. While T-Mobile grew from 53 million customers to 70.7 million today, Sprint lost one million customers, dropping to fourth place with around 54 million current customers.

Son’s answer to the new competition was to change top management. Incoming Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure promptly launched a massive cost-cutting program and layoffs, and upgrade-oriented investments in Sprint’s network stagnated, causing speeds and performance to decline.

Claure tweetstormed damage control messages about the merger’s collapse, switching from promoting the merger’s benefits to claims of relief the merger collapsed:

  • “Jointly stopping merger talks was right move.”
  • Sprint is a vital part of a larger SoftBank strategy involving the Vision Fund, Arm, OneWeb and other strategic investments.”
  • “Excited about Sprint’s future as a standalone. I’m confident this is right decision for our shareholders, customers & employees.”
  • “Sprint added over 1 million customers last year – we have gone from losing to winning.”
  • “Last quarter we delivered an estimated 22% of industry postpaid phone gross additions, our highest share ever.”
  • “Sprint network performance is at best ever levels – 33% improvement in nationwide data speeds year over year.”
  • “We are planning significant investments to the Sprint network this year and the years to come.”
  • “In the last 3 years we’ve reduced our costs by over $5 billion.”
  • “Sprint’s results are the best we’ve achieved in a decade and we will continue getting better every day.”

In Saturday’s joint announcement, Claure said that “while we couldn’t reach an agreement to combine our companies, we certainly recognize the benefits of scale through a potential combination. However, we have agreed that it is best to move forward on our own. We know we have significant assets, including our rich spectrum holdings, and are accelerating significant investments in our network to ensure our continued growth.”

“They need to spend (more) money on the network,” said William Ho, an analyst at 556 Ventures LLC.

CNBC reports Sprint’s end of its T-Mobile merger deal has hammered the company’s stock. What does Sprint do now? (1:30)

Sprint/Altice Partnership

Sprint executives hurried out word on ‘Damage Control’ Monday that Altice USA would partner with Sprint to resell wireless service under the Altice brand. In return for the partnership, Sprint will be able to use Altice’s fiber network in Cablevision’s service area in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut for its cell towers and future 5G small cells. The deal closely aligns to Comcast and Charter’s deal with Verizon allowing those cable operators to create their own cellular brands powered by Verizon Wireless’ network.

An analyst at Cowen & Co., suspected the Altice deal may be a trial to test the waters with Sprint before Altice commits to a future merger between the two companies. Altice is hungry for expansion, currently owning Cablevision and Suddenlink cable operators in the U.S. But Altice has a very small footprint in the U.S., leading some analysts to believe a more lucrative merger might be possible elsewhere.

Sprint/Charter Merger

Charter Communications Logo. (PRNewsFoto/Charter Communications, Inc.)

Charter Communications stock was up more than 7% in early Monday morning trading as a result of speculation SoftBank and Charter Communications were restarting merger talks after a deal with T-Mobile collapsed.

CNBC reported that Mr. Son was willing to resume talks with Charter executives about a merger between the cable operator and Sprint. Charter executives have shown little interest in the deal, still distracted trying to merge their acquisitions Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks into Charter’s current operation. Charter’s entry into wireless has been more tentative, following Comcast with a partnership with Verizon Wireless to resell that considerably stronger network under the Charter brand beginning sometime in 2018.

According to CNBC, John Malone’s Liberty Media, which owns a 27% stake in Charter, is now in favor of a deal, while Charter’s top executives are still opposed.

CNBC reports Charter and Sprint may soon be talking again about a merger between the two. (6:33)

Dish Networks <-> T-Mobile USA

Wall Street’s merger-focused analysts are hungry for a deal now that the Sprint/T-Mobile merger has collapsed. Pivotal Research Group is predicting good things are possible for shareholders of Dish Network, and upgraded the stock to a “buy” recommendation this morning.

Jeff Wlodarczak, Pivotal’s CEO and senior media analyst, theorizes that Sprint’s merger collapse could be good news for Dish, sitting on a large amount of unused wireless spectrum suitable for 5G wireless networks. Those licenses, estimated to be worth $10 billion, are likely to rise in value as wireless companies look for suitable spectrum to deploy next generation 5G networks.

Multichannel News quotes Wlodarczak’s note to investors:

“In our opinion, post the T-Mobile-Sprint deal failure there is a reasonable chance that T-Mobile could make a play for Dish or Dish spectrum as it would immediately vault the most disruptive U.S. wireless player into the leading U.S. spectrum position (w/ substantially more spectrum than underpins Verizon’s “best in class” network),” Wlodarczak wrote. “This possible move could force Verizon to counter-bid for Dish spectrum (or possibly the entire company) as Dish spectrum is ideally suited for Verizon and to keep it out of T-Mobile’s hands.”

AT&T/DirecTV Buyout of Dish Network

Wlodarczak has also advised clients he believes the deregulation-friendly Trump Administration would not block the creation of a satellite TV monopoly, meaning AT&T should consider pairing its DirecTV service with an acquisition of Dish Networks’ satellite TV business, even if it forgoes Dish’s valuable wireless spectrum.

“AT&T, post their Time Warner deal, could (and frankly should) be interested in purchasing Dish’s core DBS business taking advantage of a potentially more laissez faire regulatory climate/emergence of V-MVPD’s, to significantly bolster their DirecTV business (and help to justify the original questionable DirecTV deal) by creating a SatTV monopoly in ~10-15M US households, increased programming scale and massive synergies at a likely very attractive price.”

Such a transaction would likely resemble the regulatory approval granted to merge XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite Radio into SiriusXM Satellite Radio in 2008. Despite the merger, just months after its approval, the combined company neared bankruptcy until it was bailed out with a $530 million loan from John Malone’s Liberty Media in February 2009. Liberty Media maintains an active interest in the satellite radio company to this day.

Frontier Overcharging Some Florida, Texas, and California Customers Hundreds of Dollars

Phillip Dampier October 17, 2017 Consumer News, Frontier, Video 2 Comments

Customers switched to Frontier Communications from Verizon in Florida, California and Texas continue to complain they are being overcharged for service, sometimes by hundreds of dollars a month, and they’re fed up.

Danielle Ferrari, owner of a clothing and consignment shop in Tampa, has been battling the phone company over its erroneous billing since the first day it took over service from Verizon Communications.

“The very first bill was wildly wrong,” Ferrari told WFTS Action News. “The next one wasn’t correct and the next one wasn’t correct.”

Ferrari had paid Verizon a little more than $100 a month, but Frontier sent a bill for more than $340. Calls to customer service brought broken promises the company will fix Ferrari’s bill, but the overcharges kept on coming. Subsequent calls to Frontier have accomplished nothing, and attempts to speak with a supervisor were denied.

Customers who decide to cancel their Frontier service and change providers are not out of the woods yet either. Canceling is what 79-year old Dennis Klocek from Palm Springs, Calif. tried to do, leaving him owed $127.62 for dropping his Frontier phone, TV, and internet service. Frontier claims it refunds customers not with a check, but a prepaid debit card, which the company promised to mail to his home address. It never arrived.

When Klocek called Frontier about the missing card, the company refused to reimburse him, claiming the card had been sent and was almost entirely depleted by someone who used it at several convenience stores and fast food restaurants in nearby Cathedral City. As far as Frontier was concerned, once the card was mailed, the matter was out of their hands and responsibility. Klocek is upset Frontier sent his refund in the form of a debit card, which he never authorized and obviously lacked the security features a refund check would have given him.

“These people can’t get away with this,” Klockek told KESQ-TV. “What’s going on? How many other people are getting screwed like this? I don’t like this and I am going to get to the bottom of it. I feel empty. I feel like I can’t trust anybody in big business, meaning ‘AKA’ Frontier.”

Frontier also refused Klockek’s request to speak to a supervisor, leaving him at a dead end. He took his complaint to the Palm Springs television station instead, which seems to potentially bring Frontier around.

“We empathize with our former customer and are actively helping him work with the card issuer to implement a fraud investigation, resolve the matter and receive the refund,” wrote Frontier representative Javier Mendoza.

WFTS-TV in Tampa reports multiple Florida customers are having billing problems with Frontier Communications. (1:38)

Back in Tampa, Frontier customer Christina Herrman said she’s been dealing with overcharges by Frontier Communications for years.

“Ever since Frontier took over, our bill has gotten exceedingly more each month, now up to $260,” she posted on a thread talking about the issue on Facebook. “Even charging us for a 2nd cable box/DVR for the past year that we never had.”

Requesting a supervisor can lead to punishing hold times.

“I wait on hold for 20 minutes to get one on the phone, to spend another hour and they can’t help me,” she posted. “Hours upon hours wasted trying to deal with them.”

She eventually surrendered and now just pays whatever amount Frontier bills her.

In Dallas, Tex., Beth Smith Powell also took to Frontier’s Facebook page to complain she spent almost 40 hours on the phone with Frontier representatives about their bait and switch promotions.

“I had a sales rep come to my home and give me a price on TV/internet/phone for two years,” Powell wrote. “I asked her several time was this price good for the full two years, she said yes.”

When the first bill arrived, it was nearly $500, leaving Powell aghast. After two hours with Frontier’s customer service, she was promised the bill would be adjusted. It wasn’t adjusted much because when the next bill arrived, it was over $400, forcing her to spend another two hours working with Frontier to straighten that bill out. In the meantime, she was threatened with service interruption and a collection agency if her original bill was not paid in full.

Just a few months later, Powell’s bill suddenly increased $40 a month and nobody could initially explain why.

“Come to find out my two-year CONTRACT was BS — it was only a six-month discount,” Powell wrote. “I have the paperwork but […] Frontier will not honor this contract.”

It appeared Frontier walked away from the commitments their third-party door-to-door sales agents made promising 24 months of savings by only delivering six, after the billing errors were corrected.

“Shame on Frontier for being dishonest and not honoring your written sales rep contract,” Powell complains. “I’ve spent about 40 hours on the phone and chat trying to get help and no one will honor your advertised rate!”

Alan Borden, a Tampa consumer protection attorney with Debt Relief Legal Group, told WFTS Frontier’s bills are very long and hard to understand.

“They make it as convoluted as possible but theoretically, they can sneak in these overcharges where you won’t notice, or you’ll just give up,” Borden said.

Which is exactly what many customers do. Frontier has earned an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau and has collected more than 9,400 customer complaints in the last few years.

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.”

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