Areas of the Florida’s southwest coast were experiencing widespread cellphone and internet outages on Thursday after getting battered by Hurricane Ian, according to federal watchdogs and private companies that monitor connectivity.
More than half a million Floridians had lost their landline telephone, home internet, cable services or some combination of those, according to a status report Thursday from the Federal Communications Commission on the damage to Florida’s telecommunications services.
About 11% of cellphone towers across the state were out of service, the report found. It’s particularly bad in four counties — Charlotte, Hardee, Henry, and Lee — where more than 60% of towers were not functioning.
Even though the storm has passed Florida, telecommunications providers rely on local power providers to keep running. While they may temporarily rely on backup generators in emergency situations, those will eventually run out of fuel.
According to Poweroutage.us, a website that tracks live power data from many but not all American utilities companies, more than 2.6 million Floridians had no power as of Thursday afternoon.
Chris Hillis, a co-founder of the Information Technology Disaster Resource Center, a nonprofit that travels to U.S. disaster areas and works to restore basic communications for key places like fire stations and emergency shelters, said that work to restore connectivity in Florida had only just begun.
“It’s still super early,” Hillis said. “We’re still trying to get our teams in there.”
Major internet providers keep real-time data on their customers’ internet access, but do not make that information public even in emergency situations.
Outside groups that track internet connectivity, however, found that certain areas around the Gulf Coast were experiencing moderate to severe outages Tuesday.
Internet access was particularly hard-hit in Fort Myers, where there’s a near-total blackout, said Doug Madory, the director of research at Kentik, a company that monitors internet networks.
Isik Mater, the director of research at Netblocks, a company that tracks internet connectivity globally, said that Xfinity service in the town of Port Charlotte was nearly nonexistent, and only around 26% in Sarasota. (Xfinity is owned by Comcast, which also owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.)
Xfinity and Frontier both declined to share figures on internet outages, but spokespeople for both companies told NBC News that most of their service blackouts along the Gulf Coast were due to power outages, and that they hoped most of their customers could get back online soon after power is restored in their areas.