The Federal Communications Commission approved additional immediate funding to accelerate the restoration of communications networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that were damaged and destroyed during the 2017 hurricane season, it confirmed.
The FCC is also seeking comment on injecting almost $900 million in medium- and long-term funding into expanding and improving broadband access on the islands. To accomplish these goals, the Commission created the “Bringing Puerto Rico Together Fund and the “Connect USVI Fund.”
“The Commission’s action today will not only help complete the recovery from last year’s devastating storms, but seeks comment on much-needed funding for long-term improvement and expansion of broadband throughout Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
“During my visits to Puerto Rico and the USVI, I saw that it was critical for the FCC to not only address today’s urgent needs, but to look ahead to support the broadband networks the islands need to thrive in the 21st Century,” he said.
The Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking includes:
- An immediate infusion of approximately $64 million in additional funding for short-term restoration efforts.
- Conversion of $65.8 million in advanced funding the Commission provided last year to carriers in Puerto Rico and the USVI into new funding by declining to recover that advanced funding from future universal service support payments.
- Solicitation of public comment on a proposal to allocate over the next decade for the expansion of fixed broadband connectivity approximately $444.5 million in funding for Puerto Rico and $186.5 million for the USVI.
- Solicitation of public comment on a proposal to allocate approximately $259 million in medium-term funding for the expansion of 4G LTE mobile broadband connectivity in Puerto Rico and the USVI.
“The approval of these assignments and subsequent actions greatly contribute to ending the restoration work and encourages us to look in the medium and long term to expand broadband reach throughout Puerto Rico,” said Puerto Rico Telecommunications Regulatory Board President Sandra Torres.
To expedite the buildout, opportunities for the first stage of funding are open to all facilities-based providers in Puerto Rico or USVI of voice and broadband service, subject to receiving an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) designation.
To participate, providers must certify their eligibility no later than 14 days after publication of the Order in the Federal Register.
“We’ve worked closely with [Pai] and the working group he appointed for the restoration and we already see tangible results,” Torres said. “These allocations will ensure that the recovery works are completed, while we prepare to face the new hurricane season on the island.”
“Our goal is not only to recover the quality standard of telecommunications on the island, but to look beyond the recovery toward economic development and see a Puerto Rico that is a leader in new telecommunications technology projects,” said Torres.
Pai has visited Puerto Rico twice since the hurricane hit last year, initially traveling to the island last November. He also visited Puerto Rico and the USVI from March 7-10, when he led a team to review recovery efforts, evaluate lessons learned from Hurricanes Irma and María, and prepare for the upcoming hurricane season.
Enrique Ortiz de Montellano, president of Claro Puerto Rico, reacted to Pai’s announcement via Twitter, thanking the chairman for “creating this fund that will help finish the recovery and improvement of Puerto Rico’s fixed and mobile lines.”