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Cell towers, broadcasters start to return after Hurricane Ian

Damage from Hurricane Ian is seen in Rotunda, Florida on September 30, 2022.
Damage from Hurricane Ian is seen in Rotunda, Florida on September 30, 2022. (Photo by Wesley Lagenour, Federal Emergency Management Agency)

Cell phone towers that serve parts of Florida impacted by Hurricane Ian are starting to come back online less than two days after the Category 4 storm brought damaging winds and torrential rain to the state.

On Friday, the Federal Communications Commission said the number of wireless phone towers that are out of service in Florida stands at nearly 1,100, or about 7.7 percent of the towers serving the state. The figure is down from 1,550 reported on Thursday.

In Lee County, nearly half of the towers that were knocked out by the storm were brought back online within 48 hours, the data from the FCC showed. As of Friday morning, around 36 percent of the towers serving residents and businesses there were still not working.

The majority of the wireless phone towers that are offline are connected to a widespread power outage that is afflicting vast parts of Florida. Around 1.5 million electric customers in Florida were still in the dark as of Friday, according to reports.

“The trend is going in the right direction,” Scott Aaronson, an executive in charge of preparedness and security at Edison Electric Institute, said in an interview broadcast on Fox Weather.

Utility workers are also fixing critical communication infrastructure that provides cable television, landline phone and wired Internet service. As of Friday, around 457,000 customers of those services were experiencing a disruption due to the storm, down from just over 525,000 reported one day earlier.

Five television stations and 21 radio stations remain off the air, suggesting the damage to broadcasters is extensive.

Video posted by one station, WINK-TV (Channel 11, CBS), showed floodwater inundating their studio and newsroom in Fort Myers, a metropolitan city close to where the epicenter of the storm made landfall on Wednesday.

“We are like everybody else,” Tom Doerr, WINK’s news director, said in an interview posted to the station’s website. “We are experiencing the same difficulties like everybody else. … Once we get our generator back up, we will be able to broadcast on our TV station and our radio stations.”

Radio stations that are co-owned by WINK’s parent company were also not broadcasting as of Thursday evening.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).