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Nearly all phone towers back online after Maui wildfire

All TV and radio broadcasters are also transmitting, the FCC says.

All TV and radio broadcasters are also transmitting, the FCC says.

Nearly all wireless phone and data transmitters impacted by the wildfires on Maui are operating once again, the Federal Communications Commission said on Friday.

All 21 of the wireless transmission towers serving several communities on the island were impacted by direct fire damage and prolonged power outages after the wind-whipped wildfires started earlier this month.

Of those towers that were impacted, just four remain offline as of Thursday evening, the FCC said in a public statement. Additionally, mobile transmission towers erected by AT&T and T-Mobile are providing temporary wireless coverage while telecoms fix damaged equipment in parts of Maui.

Emergency phone calls are still being impacted in parts of Maui, because a network switch in Lahaina is isolated, and some wireless phone towers in that community are still offline, the FCC said. Most of the town was destroyed by the wildfires; over 110 people have been confirmed dead and around 1,000 are still listed as missing, according to local government officials.

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Radio and television broadcasters have stepped in to provide rolling updates on the Maui wildfires in the days since they started. All AM, FM and TV broadcasters remained online during the firestorm, the FCC said, confirming information provided to The Desk by a source who was briefed on the matter by the Hawaiian Association of Broadcasters.

DirecTV satellite and streaming TV customers in Hawaii have been unable to watch local news from two stations – KHON (Channel 2) and KHII (Channel 9) — because of an ongoing dispute with the owner of the stations, Nexstar Media Group. This week, DirecTV said it was donating at least 1,000 emergency weather radios with a retail value of over $25,000, so residents in Hawaii can receive reliable news updates from AM and FM radio broadcasters. The company is also waiving some charges for residential and business customers with billing addresses in certain ZIP codes.

Damage from a wildfire that swept through the Hawaiian island of Maui. (Still frame from video by Dominick Del Vecchio, Federal Emergency Management Agency)
Damage from a wildfire that swept through the Hawaiian island of Maui. (Still frame from video by Dominick Del Vecchio, Federal Emergency Management Agency)

AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are also working with local government officials to provide free access to wireless Internet in various locations, including shelters that have housed wildfire evacuees over the past 10 days. The three are also providing unlimited talk, text and data access to residential and business customers, and waiving overages on most accounts.

Hawaiian Telcom, the main land-based broadband provider on Maui, said it is working around-the-clock to restore service to thousands of affected customers. The work has been challenged by significant wildfire destruction in areas where the company has infrastructure.

As of Thursday, the number of land-based cable TV, phone and broadband customers without service was just under 15,000, down from the 16,700 reported earlier in the week, according to the FCC.

On Friday, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said the agency remains committed to helping key communication stakeholders and first responders recover from the Maui wildfires.

“Having worked for Senator (Daniel) Inouye, I experienced firsthand the kindness and collective spirit of Aloha that guides the people who call Hawaii home,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “The agency has staff on the ground in Maui assessing the impact on communications services and infrastructure to help local, state, and federal authorities to identify how to best support restoration and emergency response.”

This week, the FCC said it provided verbal approval for the County of Maui to utilize two radio frequencies — one assigned to a local community, the other to a major resort — to help with search and rescue efforts on the island.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said Hawaiian Telcom provides cable telephone, broadband and phone service on Maui. A spokesperson said they provide phone and Internet service to the island, but not TV service. 

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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