The Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund has awarded $31.6 million to provide new broadband access to 40,736 homes and businesses throughout Puerto Rico, during a round of funding announced Thursday.
The Connect America Fund is part of the FCC’s initiative to bring broadband access to rural communities. The authorized funding represents a jump-start to bring broadband to these areas from the Connect America Fund.
Thursday’s announcement comes less than three months after Puerto Rico, represented by incumbent carrier Puerto Rico Telephone (which does business as Claro), put in an application for funding, as this media outlet reported.
“Our company has long been an advocate of broadband deployment in Puerto Rico and the region given the importance of internet in the economic development, prosperity and competitiveness of countries worldwide,” said Claro President Enrique Ortiz de Montellano.
“Earlier this year the FCC included us in their innovative Broadband Adoption Lifeline Pilot Program in recognition of our commitment and leadership in this area, and we are grateful once again to be included in the CAF program which will allow us to continue deployment of internet to communities who need it most. This broadband investment marks an important day for all residents on the island”, said Ortiz de Montellano.
This is the first in a series of authorizations designed to extend broadband to as many as 600,000 households and businesses in 44 states and one territory in the near future, the agency said. Funding to Hawaii and Alaska was also granted, with $1 million and $174,000 assigned to each state, respectively.
“Broadband is essential in today’s society and is poised to deliver tremendous benefits to rural America, eliminating the need to travel long distances for educational opportunities, to access quality health care, and to tap global markets,” said Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn.
“I’m delighted we can provide an infusion of funds to connect communities in Alaska, Puerto Rico and Hawaii to jobs and other opportunities as we work with our partners in the private sector to build out broadband networks that will reach all Americans.”
Currently about 15 million U.S. residents, mostly rural, lack access to fixed broadband.
This second round of funding from Phase I of the Connect America Fund marks the continuation of “the most significant public-private effort in history to ensure that every American home and business has access to broadband by the end of the decade, which will spur economic growth and boost the nation’s global competitiveness,” the FCC said in a statement.
The FCC launched its broadband expansion program in 2011 when it reformed and modernized the Universal Service Fund, which helped expand the telephone network. The FCC created the Connect America Fund to unleash the benefits of 21st century broadband communications in communities where there are insufficient market incentives to expand broadband service absent a joint public-private effort.
Key reforms allowed Connect America to expand support to both broadband and voice without increasing universal service fees on consumers and businesses.
Phase I of the Connect America Fund is designed to quickly expand broadband to underserved areas while broader structural reforms are being implemented, in conjunction with local carriers.
Connect Puerto Rico reacts
Upon learning of the decision, Chris Pedersen, Connect Puerto Rico program manager, said it “is a big step in the right direction and will help fuel positive economic changes for these underserved communities.”
“We are pleased that nearly 41,000 households will soon have access to high-speed Internet thanks to today’s [Thursday’s] decision by the FCC,” said Pedersen. “We are working with providers and key broadband stakeholders across the island to identify the availability gaps and barriers to broadband adoption. One of the major barriers for many households has been the need for better broadband access.”
The FCC determined eligible areas for these funds based data from the National Broadband Map, which was provided by Connect Puerto Rico. Connect Puerto Rico through its parent organization, Connected Nation, is responsible for collecting and validating data from broadband providers to create an accurate picture of broadband coverage in the island so that technology planning efforts are informed by accurate and real-time data. These maps identify the type of service, speeds, and number of broadband companies that are available to an area.
“Connect Puerto Rico is very proud to have served broadband stakeholders through our mapping work. We also want to take the opportunity to thank all the broadband providers who over the past years have voluntarily partnered with us to make these statewide broadband inventories possible,” said Pedersen. “We continue to be committed to providing accurate, granular data of the broadband landscape for Puerto Rico, helping broadband stakeholders and policy makers make more informed decisions, and help close digital divide.”