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Most broadcast stations back online after Florida hurricane

Florida residents and emergency officials survey damage from Hurricane Ian in Rotunda, Florida on September 30, 2022.
Florida residents and emergency officials survey damage from Hurricane Ian in Rotunda, Florida on September 30, 2022. (Photo by Wesley Lagenour, Federal Emergency Management Agency)

The majority of Florida-based television and radio stations that were knocked offline by a hurricane last week are broadcasting once again, according to a new report.

On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said one television station and eight radio stations were still not broadcasting after Hurricane Ian slammed into the southwestern coast of Florida last Wednesday.

The numbers were an improvement compared to the situation immediately after the storm, when the FCC said six TV stations and 21 radio stations were knocked off the air by the Category 4 hurricane.

The majority of the broadcast stations knocked offline were in the Fort Myers area, a metropolitan community south of Tampa that saw the brunt of the storm last week. Nearly all the television stations broadcasting there were unavailable, including CBS affiliate WINK-TV (Channel 11), a station that saw significant flooding in its newsroom and studio.

The FCC also released updated information on the number of cable television, landline phone and wired Internet customers who were out of service immediately after the storm — and the numbers were far worse than originally reported.

On September 29, nearly 500,000 cable, phone and Internet customers were disconnected from their service, a number that increased to just over 800,000 on October 1 as the storm caused flooding throughout other parts of Florida. It was a significant increase from preliminary data reported last week, through which the FCC’s figures suggested things were getting better when, in fact, the situation was getting worse.

By October 2, thing were finally starting to improve, with the FCC reporting just under 700,000 customers without cable, landline phone and Internet. As of Monday, that number was back to under 500,000 customers suffering from a prolonged outage of those services.

Some of the outages appeared connected to a widespread electricity blackout as a result of damage to the utility grid. Local officials say it could take months for the power grid to come back online in full, because parts of it have to be completely re-built. Preliminary information suggests the overall damage caused by the storm will be in the tens of billions of dollars.

Among the companies impacted by the prolonged outage are AT&T, Comcast, Charter (Spectrum) and Lumen (CenturyLink). According to the industry publication Fierce Telecom, around 315,000 CenturyLink Internet customers are without service at the moment, while another 40,000 customers are unable to use their home telephones. A spokesperson for Lumen confirmed the outages were related to electrical service disruptions in Florida.

A spokesperson for AT&T told Fierce Telecom that a few of its landline phone users were without service — the company stopped marketing landline phone service several years ago as it transitioned customers to its wireless and Fiber-based services. For those customers who do still have older landline phone service, the disruption may be prolonged, as AT&T said the disaster is “making it a challenge to restore those affected,” Fierce Telecom said.

“Where it is safe to do so, we are deploying additional backup power to our wireline facilities and refueling generators as needed,” an AT&T spokesperson said last week. “All of our major network facilities continue to remain online, however some are currently running on a backup power source.”

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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).