Telecommunications/Technology

Telecom Board grilling providers on charges, credits post-María

Representatives from Claro/PRTC meet with TRB officials.

The Puerto Rico Telecommunications Regulatory Board has begun a series of meetings with the island’s major telecom providers to probe charges and credits to customers left without service after the hurricanes that slammed the island in September.

“After receiving reports from the telecom companies, the Board determined to summon the companies given the questions that still persist about the reimbursements granted to clients after the passage of [Hurricanes Irma and María] in the month of September,” TRB President Sandra Torres said.

On Nov. 3, the TRB issued a resolution and order requiring all telecom companies, cable and satellite service providers, to present information about the credits granted to customers as a result of a lack of service.

The first meeting took place between the TRB and Claro/PRTC, followed by AT&T. Liberty Puerto Rico and Open Mobile are to appear on Friday, while T-Mobile and WorldNet are scheduled to meet with the regulatory agency on Jan. 29. The final meeting will be Jan. 30, with representatives from PrepaNet.

“We want to make sure that consumers have received the reimbursements for the time they were without service. Each company determined the way in which it would respond to its clients and we want to verify that in fact they have been fair with consumers,” Torres said.

After wrapping up the meetings, the TRB will determine the appropriate actions, which may include the imposition of fines and costs to the companies.

After the Hurricanes Irma and Maria roared through Puerto Rico in September, the TRB, with the support of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, activated a working group to lead the recovery of the island’s telecom infrastructure with the participation of all of the providers, owners of towers, and federal and state officials.

As of Wednesday, 97.5 percent of telecom connectivity had been restored on the island.

FCC proposes $500M to promote rural broadband deployment
In related news, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai unveiled an order to promote more high-speed broadband deployment in rural areas.

If adopted, it would provide more than $500 million in additional funding for cooperatives and small rural carriers, potentially including those in Puerto Rico.

The order would also put in place strong new rules to prevent abuse of the high-cost program. Finally, the order proposes several reforms to the FCC’s high-cost program to improve its effectiveness and efficiency in promoting rural broadband deployment, including the use of a Tribal Broadband Factor to enable better access on Tribal lands.

“Closing the digital divide is the FCC’s top priority. A key way to reach this goal in rural America is updating the FCC’s high-cost universal service program to encourage cooperatives and other small, rural carriers to build more online infrastructure,” Pai said.

“We need more deployment in sparsely populated rural areas if we’re going to extend digital opportunity to all Americans. But I’ve heard from community leaders, Congress, and carriers that insufficient, unpredictable funding has kept them from reaching this goal,” said Pai, who visited Puerto Rico after the storms to assess damages.

“With the $500 million in new funding provided by this order, we’ll boost broadband deployment in rural America and put our high-cost system on a more efficient path, helping to ensure that every American can benefit from the digital revolution,” he added.

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