Cell Carriers Respond to Hurricane Irma

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On the heels of Harvey's hit to Texas & Louisiana, Hurricane Irma decided to pay a visit to the Caribbean, Florida and other parts of the Southern US. Once again, the nation has watched, prayed, and sent good vibes to those in Irma's path. And now, many will send aid in hopes of helping those who have incurred her wrath rebuild what they have lost.

Hurricane Irma Looming Large. PC: NOAA

During disaster of this type, wired infrastructure is easily damaged, and people who weathered out the storm or who were forced to evacuate are left relying on mobile technology.

Fortunately, once again, all the major cellular carriers are stepping in to provide service without fear of overage charges.

Here is the latest on Hurricane Irma relief from the big four, plus Wi-Fi hotspot provider Comcast:

Verizon

Verizon is offering free talk, text, and data to all customers in specified zip codes in the designated area of impact.

Verizon's "We Got Your Back" page states:

"Sometimes life throws the unexpected at you, and it could mean using extra data that you weren’t planning on needing. Verizon will relieve talk, text and data charges from 9/9 through 9/15 to customers in the impacted counties, so you can stay connected when it matters most. During this time you may still receive data overage charges, but don’t worry, we’ve got them covered on your next bill. Just ignore any overage alerts you may receive during this time."

Verizon Prepaid customers in specified zip codes will automatically be granted an extra 3 GB of data.

Verizon may extend the offering as needed. For a list of zip codes with waived fees, see here.

AT&T

AT&T is keeping folks updated on their disaster response to Irma here. From this AT&T's page:

"Running from Sept. 6 through Sept. 15 we’re automatically issuing credits and waiving additional fees to give unlimited data, talk and texts to AT&T wireless customers and unlimited talk and texts to AT&T PREPAID customers in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands. Customers in these areas may still receive data alert notifications during these protected dates, but billing will reflect the correct data charges.

We’re also automatically issuing credits to provide unlimited texts, wireless calls and landline calls from the U.S. to the British Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos, and U.S. Virgin Islands from Sept. 6 to Sept. 10. A similar offer to call and text the Bahamas is available from Sept. 8 through Sept. 10. Landline customers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands can also make free calls back to the domestic 50 states from Sept. 6 through Sept. 10."

T-Mobile

T-Mobile issued an update, saying:

Join the MIA

"T-Mobile is making it free to call and text from the United States to the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. T-Mobile will also waive roaming fees on calls and texts for customers in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. The offer is good until Sept. 15. T-Mobile also is offering free calling/texting, as well as unlimited data, for Florida customers not on T-Mobile ONE (customers on T-Mobile ONE always have unlimited calling/texting/data). The Florida offer applies to T-Mobile and MetroPCS customers in the following area codes until Sept. 15: 239, 305, 321, 352, 386, 407, 561, 689, 727, 754, 772, 786, 813, 850, 863, 904, 941, 954"

T-Mobile is also promoting ‘Text to Give’ to help those affected by Hurricane Irma:

  • To donate $10 to the Save the Children for Hurricane Irma disaster relief efforts, text IRMA to 20222. The donation will be charged to your next T-Mobile bill. Text messaging charges will not apply. More information can be found at: http://www.mobilegiving.org/terms-and-conditions/
  • To donate $10 to the Volunteer Florida Foundation for Hurricane Irma disaster relief efforts, text DISASTER to 20222. The donation will be charged to your next T-Mobile bill. Text messaging charges will not apply. More information can be found at: http://www.mobilegiving.org/terms-and-conditions/
  • To donate $10 to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Irma disaster relief efforts, text IRMA to 90999. The donation will be charged to your next T-Mobile bill. Text messaging charges will not apply. More information can be found at: http://www.mobilegiving.org/terms-and-conditions/

Sprint

Sprint's hurricane response page states:

"Sprint is waiving all text, call and data overage fees for Sprint, BoostMobile and Virgin Mobile customers in Florida today through September 15, 2017, and extending the same previously announced waived overage fees for customers in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands through September 15, 2017. Fees will be proactively waived during the specified timeframe. Customers on Unlimited plans will continue to enjoy their unlimited data, call and text benefits. The company will also waive all international call and text overage fees for Sprint, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile customers in the U.S. to the Bahamas, and roaming voice and text overage charges for Sprint customers in the Bahamas, effective today through September, 15, 2017."

Comcast

According to Comcast, the company is unlocking 137,000 Xfinity WiFi hotspots in impacted areas to provide free service through at least Wednesday, regardless of whether or not you are a Comcast subscriber, through September 15th.

You can find Xfinity WiFi hotspot locations on Comcast's website. Each non-customer session will be limited to two hours, but you can keep reconnecting as needed.


Note For Nomads: Check For Eligibility!

One unfortunate detail nomads should be aware of - the bill credits and free service being issued by the carriers seem to be tied to your billing address being in an impacted area.

For nomads who rely on a mail forwarding service, this may not be the case.

Be sure to check each carriers hurricane response pages linked above to be confirm the areas of eligibility.


Send In the Cows & Colts

Emergency response teams prepping for Irma.

All the major carriers have emergency response equipment to help provide cellular service in areas where the core infrastructure has collapsed, or where excess capacity is needed.

These are known as COWs ('cell on wheels') and COLTs ('cell on light truck') - and when a cell tower goes down, network engineers can quickly set up a new mobile cellular site as needed this way.

Each major carrier has emergency plans in place for before, during and after an emergency like Hurricane Irma. The main goal is to get service up and working as quickly as possible.

To asses damage, some cell companies use drones to quickly get information from areas that might have been inaccessible by car due to flooding. After Harvey, AT&T deployed more than 40 drones in the skies above southern Texas and had another 58 on standby. The drones captured high resolution footage of cell sites so engineers could see what needed repairing in real time.

It is probable that these preps and responses will be effective on the Florida mainland. The Keys will more than likely take a bit longer. Our friends on the Caribbean, who have been without reliable means of communication (as well as other essentials like electric, water, and reliable food) will be likely waiting for for some time before normalcy is restored - especially as focus has shifted to the impacts on the mainland.

So, like we did during Harvey, we will plead: don't take advantage of free cellular service by hosting a hurricane party and binge watching non-stop weather channel updates in HD. 

If in the impacted areas, or calling to the impacted areas, avoid adding to the congestion. Allow cell companies to continue their work to get everyone re-connected. Keep your friends and family updated, track the weather (in SD), and if the network shows signs of congestion log off and save capacity for people who's lives may literally be on the line.


As many of your know, our very own Chris & Cherie have been directly impacted by the wrath of Irma. They are currently waiting safely, but wrought with anxiousness to return to their home on the water, Y-Not, which, at the time of this writing, still appears to be afloat in a slip in Marathon, FL. We at RV Mobile Internet are keeping our hopes high that they return to their home to find minimal damage.

We hope the same for their neighbors, and every person affected by Irma. And while it's easy to focus

If you are able to do more than send hopes and prayers to those affected by Irma and other recent natural disasters including Harvey and the West Coast Wildfires, please consider doing so.

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