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Exasperated Puerto Ricans Desperate for Cellphone Service Turn to Mexican Carrier

Nick Brown and Robin Respaut - Reuters
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October 3, 2017

Mexican telecommunications tycoon Carlos Slim (PoderPDA)

Puerto Ricans exasperated by the patchy U.S. relief response to their hurricane-blasted island are turning to a Mexican billionaire's mobile phone network they say has been faster to restore service.

Claro Puerto Rico, a subsidiary of America Movil owned by Carlos Slim, has stepped up to a challenge in the wake of Hurricane Maria that U.S. peers like AT&T Inc., T-Mobile US Inc. and Sprint Corp. have been slower to address, residents said.

By Saturday, 11 days after Maria hit, Claro, the island's No. 2 cellular operator, had restored service in 28 of the island's 78 municipalities, reaching about 310,000 customers.

"Claro is the only one with service here," said Francisco Portales, 47, a customer of privately held Puerto Rico-based network provider Open Mobile who was waiting outside the Claro store in Fajardo hoping to buy a phone to call his wife, whom he has heard from just once since the storm.

The coverage picture on Puerto Rico overall remains dire, with 88.8 percent of the island's cell towers out of service as of Sunday, according to the latest Federal Communications Commission update.

Neither AT&T, the commonwealth's biggest wireless provider, nor T-Mobile or Sprint disclosed how much of their networks are up and running. AT&T spokesman Fletcher Cook said on Sunday that it was making "steady progress" with temporary cell sites and generators that have processed 100,000 calls in the previous 24 hours, and has more equipment and staff arriving in coming days.

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Related: Telemundo and Univision Raise $20 Million for Puerto Rico and Mexico Disaster Relief (Forbes)

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