Wireless phone providers are making good progress in restoring critical mass communication services to residents and businesses impacted by destructive wildfires on the island of Maui, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) affirmed on Tuesday.
All 21 wireless towers that provide service to AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile customers were impacted by the immediate effects of the wildfires that started earlier this month, with most of the towers going offline due to prolonged power outages.
As of Tuesday, just 11 of the 21 towers were still not operating, a significant improvement compared to earlier in the week when the vast majority of towers remained offline.
The FCC has offered wireless carriers special temporary authority to spin up mobile cell towers and use microwave technology to link communications points together. The move helped many residential customers, businesses and first responders use mobile devices like phones, tablets and hotspots for the first time since the fires started.
Cable and wireline services are still reporting mass disruptions, with the FCC counting around 16,700 customers who are without land-based broadband Internet, television or phone service as of Tuesday morning. The number was unchanged from a figure reported on Monday.
Four AM radio stations are still operating in Maui, according to the FCC, which did not report similar figures for FM radio stations. That said, the Hawaiian Association of Broadcasters has told key industry stakeholders in recent days that no AM or FM radio station went offline during the wildfire, and all remain operational today, according to a person briefed on the matter.
On Tuesday, officials reported the death toll had reached 99, making the Maui wildfires the deadliest in American history. Officials say the death toll could climb even higher in the coming days and weeks, because many residents are still reported as missing.
Search-and-rescue efforts have turned into recovery missions in many of the island’s destruction zones, an indication that emergency officials believe the number of missing people who are later found safe will be low to non-existent.
The precise cause of the wildfires has not been determined. The fires started shortly after the National Weather Service issued fire-related warnings for Maui and other areas, with dry conditions on the island and wind currents from a passing hurricane fueling the blazes once they started.