Promising to offer affordable high-speed Internet to all of Puerto Rico, the $32.5 million Puerto Rico Bridge Initiative was officially inaugurated Tuesday, with the goal of eventually expanding a broadband footprint to the entire island.
The inauguration of the first phase of the network comes nearly a year after PRBI project manager Critical Hub Networks received federal funding to establish a fiber-optic bridge between Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland.
In a second phase, Critical Hub Networks will build out the network to blanket the island, a task that will certainly pose a challenge for the project that is financed mostly with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, which provided $25.7 million. The Critical Hub project also received an additional $6.8 million in matching funds.
“Since the project received financing in April 2010, Critical Hub Network has made great strides in implementing the first phase of the project,” said Carlo Marazzi, president of Critical Hub Networks on Tuesday.
Essentially, that first phase consisted on acquiring and installing two undersea broadband cable connections between Puerto Rico and Miami capable of providing 10 Gigabits per second bandwidth.
The separate cables will eventually feed 15 interconnection points around the island to create a virtual loop to extend high-speed Internet throughout. To achieve this, PRBI will establish what are known as peering relationships with local Internet providers who will be in charge of delivering services to their areas.
The PRBI’s first interconnection point should be operational early during the second quarter of this year, while the largest part of the population will have access to the benefits of the network during the first six months of operation, company executives said.
“The federal funds assigned to the PRBI represent a benefit for all of Puerto Rico’s sectors and its economy. These funds will change the situation for Puerto Rico’s Internet providers as they will improve competitiveness and generate better offers,” Marazzi said.
A joint industry effort
PRBI groups 85 percent of the island’s ISPs — including CaribeNet; AeroNet Wireless Broadband; CulebraNet; Ayustar; PRW.NET; AWS Communications; and FLASSH Communications — who along with government and individual participants, are “focused on solving the problems behind Puerto Rico’s lagging broadband Internet network.”
The PRBI began taking shape in February 2009, quickly garnering the support of most local ISPs, as well as grassroots organizations and the government. During a meeting in April 2010, participants identified four key barriers that needed to be addressed to improve broadband penetration and usage in Puerto Rico: construction of last-mile infrastructure, or what is needed to reach homes; costs associated with crossing the island, especially through dense topography; the digital divide; and backbone, or off-island interconnection costs.
The PRBI projects tackles all of those issues, Marazzi said, as the project sets out to achieve that broadband be within everybody’s reach, be universally available, with more speed for a lower price per megabit.
“To be able to close the digital divide and increase broadband penetration on the island, we have to solve the problems of costs to consumers, motivate the adoption of technology, create content directed to our market and orient consumers about the benefits of broadband,” said Marazzi.
“High-speed broadband and connectivity are essential to economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness, world-class education, innovation and creativity. PRBI is designed so that Puerto Rico will be at a comparable level with the mainland,” said Marazzi.
Puerto Rico’s broadband penetration rate stands at about 31 percent, less than half of the 67 percent average on the U.S. mainland, according to the Puerto Rico Chief Information Officer.
The service is also 60 percent more expensive and 78 percent slower than the United States national median. In a report published by the Communication Workers of America, which ranked broadband speeds in the 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico was ranked last, at the 52nd place.
Investing to ‘out-innovate, out-educate and out-build’e the rest of the world
During the PRBI’s inauguration, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner in Washington, Pedro Pierluisi, lauded the initiative, saying broadband is one infrastructure component of the many needed to bring people and businesses together.
“We will not out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world if we do not invest in our people and in the infrastructure that brings people and businesses together,” said Pierluisi.
“For Puerto Rico to fully participate in the global economy, residents and businesses on the island must have fast and affordable access to the Internet. Without this access, we will never realize the full potential of our workforce: we will never light the spark in the mind of a student from out of the island’s rural interior because they are unable to explore the Internet,” he said, noting that business, medical care, and other opportunities hinge on broadband.
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