Cellular and internet carriers are making progress in fully restoring communications and services for residents of Hurricane Ian-affected counties in the aftermath of the storm that ravaged much of Southwest Florida on Sept. 28.
Major carriers including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Frontier say their companies’ employees are working as fast as possible to restore connections to residents eager to reach family members and friends or get back to business.
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AT&T restores nearly 80% of its service
According to spokesperson Rosie Montalvo, AT&T continues to open its network to other cellular carriers at no cost as they restore service to customers.
“Our priority continues to be keeping our customers connected, and we know this need is even greater before, during, and after any major storm event,” Montalvo said. “There are no known impacts to wireline service in Sarasota, Manatee, and Charlotte counties at this time,”
As of Tuesday, nearly 80% of AT&T’s wireline customers in impacted Florida counties have had their service restored Montalvo stated.
AT&T has notified its wireless customers in affected areas across the state that all cellular services – including talk, text, and data overage charges – have been waived through Oct. 28, 2022.
AT&T released a statement via email Tuesday morning describing the continued efforts of its crews and overall support during and post-Ian:
“Our crews are working as quickly as possible to restore service in the hardest hit areas, including Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties… We have one of the industry’s largest and most advanced disaster response programs and we are deploying generators and other network recovery equipment in affected areas, as conditions allow,” the statement read.
On Oct. 1, AT&T and FirstNet loaded a portable cell site onto a helicopter to assist with communications on Pine Island, near the devastated Sanibel community, where residents were stranded. The device, known as a compact rapid deployable, or CRD, is providing wireless service for first responders and Wi-Fi for the residents in the affected Lee County area.
Verizon communication centers open in Southwest Florida
Verizon’s Wireless Emergency Communication Centers are providing free charging, Wi-Fi, and portable power packs to the community most affected by Hurricane Ian.
The centers, which have opened up this week in Lee and Charlotte counties, are providing charging, free Wi-Fi, and free portable power packs for any member of the community on any carrier Verizon officials said Tuesday morning.
Residents seeking cellular and internet service can get both at two of Verizon’s centers at the Port Charlotte Town Center Mall, located at 1441 Tamiami Trail. Customers in need can visit the communication center daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
A second communication center has been opened for residents in Fort Myers Beach, located at 2525 Estero Blvd. Residents and customers can access the communications center daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“Our hearts go out to all who are impacted by Hurricane Ian,” said Shawn Alexander, consumer vice president for Verizon. “Our hope is this offer gives our customers one less thing to worry about so they can focus on staying safe.”
Consumer and small business customers in the Charlotte, Collier, Desoto, Hardee, Sarasota and Lee counties will continue to receive unlimited calling, texting, and data through Oct. 11, 2022, Verizon officials said Tuesday.
On Tuesday in Sarasota and Desoto counties, Verizon engineers are continuing to move communication sites from temporary satellite connections to more permanent connections by restoring fiber cables. According to Verizon, engineers have restored one cell site on Sanibel Island using satellite connections and portable generators.
Verizon did not provide a timeline for full restoration Tuesday morning.
Frontier continues service restoration
Frontier’s vice president of communications Chrissy Murray stated the company’s emergency center was launched to help residents and consumers stay connected in the wake of the hurricane. According to Frontier, a “robust damage assessment” is underway in affected areas where Frontier employees have been authorized to enter.
“While power outages and damage to some of our aerial lines have caused what is expected to be short-term service disruption for our customers, as power is restored we anticipate a significant reduction in troubles,” Murray said. “We are reviewing and augmenting our strategy in real time based on these assessments and have a workforce to support and repair once conditions are safe to do so.”
Frontier’s underground fiber optic system, Murray said, was essential to keeping many customers connected and helped reduce the impact and damage to Frontier’s network.
A percentage of restoration or expected timeline for the full restoration of Frontier’s services could not be provided by the company’s spokesperson.
Comcast faces ‘extensive’ restoration in SWFL
Extensive restoration work continues daily throughout Florida with over 1,100 technicians removing the damaged network and placing state-of-the-art fiber optic cable and new electronics to re-activate and restore Xfinity services for customers.
Xfinity WiFi Vans can be found at the following locations daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.:
Collier County residents can receive free cell and Wi-Fi service at Veteran’s Community Park located at 1895 Veteran’s Park Drive in Naples. In Lee County, Xfinity WiFi Vans can be found at Hertz Arena (11000 Everblades Parkway) in Estero and at the Fleamasters Flea Market (4135 Dr. Martin Luther King Drive) in Fort Myers. Charlotte County residents can visit and tap into the Xfinity WiFi van in the Walmart Supercenter lot (19100 Murdock Circle) in Port Charlotte.
Comcast Florida Region vice president of public relations Mindy Kramer said Tuesday morning the lead engineer and his team were working and restoring service in affected areas by the hour.
“Our teams have already repaired and reconnected nearly a thousand drops – the lines that connect homes and neighborhoods to our network,” Kramer said. “This has helped us restore services for tens of thousands of impacted customers to date. We are doing everything possible to restore services in places where power has now been restored.”
In addition, Comcast has committed $1 million in cash and in-kind contributions to the Florida Disaster Fund this week that will help support Southwest and Central Florida food banks, the United Way, and the American Red Cross.
Prior to Hurricane Ian making landfall, Comcast had opened approximately 90,000 public Xfinity WiFi hotspots throughout Central, North, and Southwest Florida. In addition, Comcast launched Xfinity WiFi vans this week in affected areas to assist customers and residents with service needs.
A percentage of restoration or expected timeline for the full restoration of Comcast’s services could not be provided by the company’s spokesperson.
Spectrum restores over 90% of customers so far
Spectrum Communications, which serves a sliver of Lakewood Ranch and has a footprint in both Sarasota and Manatee counties, reports 92% restoration of services to its customers since September 29.
Information on Spectrum’s website states that restoration can be expected to be restored in North Manatee county by Oct. 6, south Manatee by Oct. 7 and areas affected below Manatee County in Southwest Florida by Oct. 11.
Spectrum’s spokesman Joe Durkin could not be reached for comment by press time.
Samantha Gholar covers social justice news for the Herald-Tribune and USA TODAY Network. Connect with her at email@example.com or on Twitter: @samanthagholar