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In Puerto Rico, the collapse of the communications networks following Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 contributed to the historic death toll: Between 3,000 and 5,000 people died.

Since then, Free Press has worked with Puerto Rican allies to hold the Federal Communications Commission and the federal government accountable. We also released a groundbreaking report documenting the FCC’s failures. We’re calling on the agency and Congress to investigate all of the factors that contributed to the communications crisis to prevent this kind of catastrophe from happening again.

Question and Answers


    Why are you working on communication rights in Puerto Rico?

    A: An estimated 95 percent of cellphone sites, 97 percent of radio stations and all but one TV station were knocked out of service following Maria. And damage to wireline services (both cable and fiber) was extensive. The FCC has a history of investigating communication disruptions: It did so after Hurricane Katrina in 2006 and Hurricane Michael in 2018. But Chairman Ajit Pai is refusing to do his job in Puerto Rico.

    Why is this a racial justice issue?

    A: The history of colonialism and neglect from the federal government contributed to the scope of the communications disaster in Puerto Rico. In addition, climate change disproportionately impacts communities of color. And too often, telecom infrastructure is less likely to be resilient in these communities, endangering residents’ lives. Understanding what happened in Puerto Rico is critical to adopting policies to prevent such a tragedy, especially since storms like Maria are becoming the norm.

    Why is this work personal for many Free Press staffers?

    A: Five members of the organization’s Puerto Rico team are Puerto Rican. The fight for Puerto Ricans’ digital rights is also a struggle for racial justice and against the harms caused by colonialism, racism and capitalism. We hope our work in Puerto Rico will help people identify the importance of addressing similar injustices in their own communities.

Our Work on Puerto Rico

We’re fighting to hold the FCC and our federal government accountable and are working with Puerto Ricans on the islands to advocate for locally owned and resilient communications networks.

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