Why Verizon Is Giving Free Service to Many Florida Customers

October 16, 2018, 9:33 PM UTC

Verizon announced on Tuesday that it would give three months of free service to its wireless customers in the Florida panhandle region affected by Hurricane Michael. The move comes after sharp criticism of the industry from, among others, the head of the Federal Communications Commission, over its failure to recover quickly from storm damage.

Every Verizon customer living in Bay and Gulf counties will get the three free months, including both consumer and business accounts, Verizon said.

“We are making progress every hour and we expect that trend to continue at a rapid pace,” executive vice president and head of wireless Ronan Dunne said in a statement. “We won’t rest until service is completely restored.”

The carrier has struggled more than competitors to fully restore service in the region because the hurricane damaged not just cellular towers, but also broke some of Verizon’s fiber optic cable lines, which are harder to replace. Rival AT&T (T) says its network was “nearly fully restored” in the region.

Earlier on Tuesday, FCC chair Ajit Pai blasted the wireless industry in general for the delays in restoring service, though without mentioning Verizon, where he once worked, by name. “Even though efforts to restore communications services have been going well in most of the areas affected by Hurricane Michael, the slow progress in restoring wireless service in areas close to where the hurricane made landfall is completely unacceptable,” Pai said, while endorsing the call by Florida Gov. Rick Scott for customers to have their bills waived in the region.

Unlike Pai, Scott has repeatedly called out Verizon by name in his critiques. “There in Bay County, we’re still waiting on Verizon,” Scott said at a press briefing on Sunday. “AT&T is working there, but Verizon is not.”

As of Monday, more than 200,000 households in Florida were without cable TV, phone or Internet service, according to the FCC. Mobile service was out in 15% of cell sites in 21 counties across the state affected by the storm, the FCC said.

Verizon (VZ) has said that the hurricane, one of the strongest ever to make landfall, caused “unprecedented damage” to its fiber network when it hit on October 10. The carrier claimed that 98% of its network was in service across the entire state as of Monday.

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