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Analysis: U.S., FCC must focus on Puerto Rico’s broadband deficiency

The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council recently weighed in on Puerto Rico’s lagging broadband availability and use, saying the U.S. and the Federal Communications Commission have the responsibility of helping the island move forward in deployment and consumer adoption.

In an article titled “Disregarded: Has the U.S. forgotten its responsibility to bring Puerto Rico into the 21st century?” attorney Latoya Livingston further said island residents “deserve access to broadband just as if they were citizens living in Connecticut or Wyoming. But they are nowhere near the level of access we enjoy in the 50 states.”

“Puerto Rico should not be an afterthought in U.S. and FCC regulation and policy. Puerto Rico is the poster child of the broadband adoption challenge,” she said. “It is facing the great U.S. infrastructure challenge of the 21st century, which makes building out broadband in the country extremely difficult.”

In her column, Livingston outlined Puerto Rico’s broadband penetration rate, which stands at about 86 percent — significantly lower than the 95 percent stateside average. Furthermore, according to the Broadband Task Force, adoption levels across the island currently hover at around 31 percent, less than half of the 68 percent of mainland U.S. households.

“Communications companies cite lack of interest in broadband and adoption on the island as a major blow to the business case for investing in deployment, but without access to and education about the benefits of the technology, it’s hard to blame the citizenry for their lack of enthusiasm for the service,” Livingston noted.

Forward-looking solutions
Looking ahead, Livingston noted that if Puerto Rico’s broadband usage does not improve, the negative effects would be mostly noticeable in education and healthcare.

In her analysis, the Washington D.C.-based attorney presented several solutions to the problem, including pushing Congress and the FCC to include Puerto Rico in its broadband initiatives.

“Congress and the FCC can include Puerto Rico in their broadband initiatives, but have lately chosen to restrict many of those programs to the 50 states,” she said. “Unfortunately for the people of Puerto Rico, the island needs U.S. involvement to build out broadband infrastructure, but have yet to see much help.”

In March 2012, the FCC shut out Puerto Rico from a $300 million capital injection it made available to build out broadband throughout the nation. That omission caught the attention of Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who during a public hearing in May grilled the FCC about why the national broadband plan is not factoring the island as part of the U.S.

Compounding the situation is the fact that Puerto Rico was also left out of the funding made available under the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program for its Sustainable Adoption or Public Computing Center programs.

Puerto Rico is a digital problem that can be solved. But it is time for Congress, the FCC, and Puerto Rican leaders to come together to find an effective solution for the island, before its people are left in the digital dust,” Livingston concluded.

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 29 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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