Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai wrapped up a two-day visit to Puerto Rico on Monday, where he met with government and industry officials to see and hear about the status of recovery efforts following Hurricane María.
“The devastation wrought by Hurricane María has been unimaginable. I saw some of it for myself, from a mountaintop tower in El Yunque National Forest, which is hard to reach due to storm damage but is precariously operational, to destroyed homes in San Juan,” Pai said.
“The path to recovery has met several challenges, most notably the lack of power and functional infrastructure. One thing is clear: overcoming these challenges won’t be easy,” he added.
Saying he is “heartened by the dedication of our public safety community to the people of Puerto Rico,” Pai commended the people of Puerto Rico for helping their neighbors, Federal Emergency Management Agency staff, and the regulators of the Puerto Rico Telecommunications Regulatory Board.
Additionally, amateur radio operators, broadcasters, cable operators, fixed wireless companies, wireline carriers, and mobile providers have stepped up to the plate, working overtime to connect the disconnected, he said.
“Recovering from this storm requires an all-hands-on-deck effort. The FCC remains committed to doing everything we can to help restore communications networks as quickly as possible,” Pai said.
In September, right after the storm passed, the FCC approved advancing Puerto Rico carriers $77 million in universal service funding to help facilitate the restoration of communications networks on the island. The speedy decision to allow a fixed wireless provider to access 5 GHz spectrum enabled it to quickly establish connectivity.
“Looking ahead, we’re going to keep thinking creatively and doing proactively to help restore networks on the island. Among other things, I believe that more funding will be needed in the months to come,” said Pai.
During his stay, Pai visited various parts of San Juan and towns along the northeast Puerto Rican coast. He also inspected a tower site and associated infrastructure on mountains in El Yunque National Forest. This infrastructure serves a critical role in providing connectivity in the eastern part of Puerto Rico, particularly for first responders.
He also met with TRB President Sandra Torres and Associate Member Alexandra Fernández, and attended a detailed briefing hosted by FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Weather Service, the Small Business Administration, and others, covering everything from the status of communications networks to the state of the water supply to debris removal.
Pai also met with representatives from numerous communications entities, including fixed wireless providers Aeronet and Neptuno Networks; a wide array of radio broadcasters; wired providers like Claro/PRTC and Liberty; and wireless companies like AT&T, Open Mobile, T-Mobile, and Verizon.
In related news, on Tuesday, Torres testified before the Puerto Rico Senate, confirming among other things that the island’s telecom network should be up to 95 percent restored by December.