Monday, December 11, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Telecom firms should be more transparent after Irma

The big question on the minds of most Floridians last week — when is my power coming back? — eclipsed another breakdown in critical public infrastructure, as Hurricane Irma devastated cellphone, Internet and cable service across wide parts of Florida. The Internet has become an everyday lifeline, enabling millions of residents to communicate, run a business or help secure their families and property. The state should require more from this industry in an emergency, and providers should offer more to customers left without service by the storm.

Irma left at least 7.6 million cable and Internet customers in Florida without service last week, and in the first full day of the recovery effort, more than one-fourth of all cell sites in the state were out, with half or more of all cell sites out in six counties, including Monroe (81 percent), Collier (76 percent) and Hendry (67 percent). By the weekend, as electricity was restored across the state, most services also had been restored. As of Monday, slightly more than 1 million customers still lacked cable and Internet service, and only 4 percent of all cell sites were still down.

The network recovered quickly enough, for the most part, but customers were still left in the dark about service interruptions after the storm. Unlike electric utilities, telecom companies do not disclose who and how many customers are without service. Companies regularly report service outages to the Federal Communications Commission, but those reports are treated as confidential trade secrets by the government. During a disaster, companies report outages to the FCC, and the agency makes some broad numbers publicly available. But that reporting is voluntary, making it virtually impossible to see the outages and the recovery effort in real time. The system is so flawed that at least one telecom provider last week was submitting multiple outage reports, the FCC noted, which only served to inflate the scope of downed service across the state.

These companies use public property to operate this critical public infrastructure, and they should be required to publicly report service outages during a disaster. Regular updates by the power companies help residents appreciate the scope of the work facing the utilities and give them some sense of when services will be restored, an important feeling of normalcy after a storm. This is not unduly burdensome for the telecom companies, and it's a fair price for the ever-expanding role these companies are playing in society and the economy.

Cable, Internet and cellphone providers have waived some fees and offered other concessions to customers in storm-affected areas. But this is not enough. Sen. Bill Nelson wrote to the companies last week urging they provide rebates or credits to those whose voice, video or data service was interrupted by Irma. Several providers said they would consider rebate requests on a case-by-case basis. That is unreasonable, and it will only cause an unnecessary backlog for customer service.

The telecom providers were not nearly as responsive as they needed to be in the aftermath of Irma. These companies provide more than entertainment; they provide a medium for people to stay in touch and informed, for businesses to operate and for the state to recover. They need to be held to a standard in keeping with the role cellphones and the Internet play in modern society. Doing the bare minimum is not good enough — not for customers or a growing state. The industry can and should do better.

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Editorial: U.S. House sides with NRA over stateís rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week wonít make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, itís obvious that Jeff Vinikís plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Editorial: Outsourcing common sense on St. Petersburg Pier naming rights

St. Petersburg officials predict that selling the naming rights to parts of the new Pier could generate $100,000 in annual revenue. But first the city wants to pay a consultant to tell it how and to whom to sell the rights. Why do city officials need...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Another voice: Trumpís risky move

President Donald Trumpís decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israelís capital has a certain amount of common sense on its side. As a practical matter, West Jerusalem has been the seat of Israeli government since 1949, and no conceivable formula for Pa...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

A tactical retreat and regrouping seems to be paying off for Hillsborough Countyís Museum of Science and Industry. After paring back its operations, the museum posted a small profit over the past year, enabling the attraction to keep its doors open a...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Voters in Temple Terrace, Plant City and Thonotosassa have an easy choice in the Dec. 19 special election to replace state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who resigned for health reasons. Republican Lawrence McClure is the only credible candidate.McClure, 30, ow...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

It has been 1,979 days since all heck broke loose in the flood insurance industry. Apparently, that just wasnít enough time for Washington to react. So with the National Flood Insurance Program set to expire on Friday, itís looking increasingly likel...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17

Editorial: St. Petersburg should raise rates for reclaimed water

Raising rates on reclaimed water in St. Petersburg is an equitable way to spread the pain of paying for millions in fixes to the cityís dilapidated sewer system. The city has no choice but to start charging utility customers more as the sewer bills c...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17