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FCC approves $950M to improve broadband in P.R./USVI

For additional details about the FCC’s decision, check out our exclusive interview with Ajit Pai in the latest episode of our “Dollars and Sensepodcast series. Just click on the link to the audio above!

The Federal Communications Commission approved $950 million in funding to improve, expand, and harden communications networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, during an Open Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Two years ago, communications infrastructure on the islands was devastated by Hurricanes Irma and María. The FCC responded, among other steps, by creating the “Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund” and the “Connect USVI Fund.”  

To date, the FCC has provided about $130 million in additional, one-time Universal Service Fund support to assist with network restoration.  

With restoration work substantially complete, the FCC voted to approve the next stage of funding, which will provide mid- and long-term support to “deploy fast, resilient, and reliable networks that will stand the test of time.”

To accomplish the goals in Puerto Rico, the FCC voted to allocate more than $500 million over 10 years in fixed broadband support and more than $250 million over three years in mobile broadband support. 

In the USVI, the FCC allocated more than $180 million over 10 years in support for fixed networks, and $4 million over three years for mobile networks.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who submitted the order approved Thursday, explained that fixed broadband support will be awarded through a competitive process.

“Perhaps the most important thing to understand about this proposal is that it goes far beyond simply recovering from the devastation of Irma and María,” he said in an opinion piece published this week in a local newspaper.

“It’s about connecting everyone in Puerto Rico to the opportunities of the Internet age. This funding can bring broadband connectivity to people and places in Puerto Rico that have never before had high-speed internet access,” he said. 

“This is not a plan to return to the way things were; it’s a plan to move Puerto Rico forward into the digital future,” he added.
Providers’ applications will be scored based on objective criteria in three categories: price per location served, network performance (speed and latency), and network resiliency and redundancy, the FCC explained.

Support for mobile services will be awarded to providers that were offering mobile services in the territories prior to the hurricanes to “expand and harden 4G LTE networks and deploy next-generation 5G networks.” 

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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