Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai circulated a draft Order to his fellow commissioners that would provide approximately $950 million in funding to “storm-harden, improve, and expand” broadband networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were devastated by Hurricanes Irma and María in 2017.
This is the second round of funding under the FCC’s “Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund” and Connect USVI Fund and follows $130 million in extra funding the FCC has provided to restore hurricane-damaged networks in Puerto Rico and the USVI since 2017.
The draft Order will be considered at FCC’s monthly meeting on Sept. 26.
“The FCC took numerous steps to help restore communications in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following the devastating one-two punches delivered by Hurricanes Irma and María,” Pai said.
“But even as we were responding to immediate needs, we knew that we needed to have a long-term strategy to expand broadband availability in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, improve broadband networks on these islands, and help protect these networks against future storms,” he added.
“That’s why we created the Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund and the Connect USVI Fund,” said Pai.
The draft Order would deliver on that strategy by allocating about $950 million in federal universal service support for Stage 2 of the funds, he said.
“Significant work has been done to restore connectivity. Now, this new funding would support deployment of the networks of tomorrow, including gigabit fiber and 5G, in Puerto Rico and the USVI,” Pai added.
“It would also help ensure that Americans living there will be able to fully participate in the digital economy and remain connected when they need it most. Our goal is simple: to provide everyone in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with digital opportunity,” Pai said.
Two years ago, this month, Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico and the USVI within a span of two weeks.
“In addition to massive property destruction, power and communications outages were widespread,” said Pai in a blog entry posted on the FCC’s website.
“The Commission acted quickly, providing an infusion of about $66 million from the Universal Service Fund to assist carriers in Puerto Rico and the USVI with initial restoration efforts,” he said.
The FCC created the Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund and Connect USVI Fund in 2018 providing some $64 million in additional funding during the first phase to assist with network restoration.
For Stage 2, the FCC proposed a longer-term strategy for improving, expanding, and hardening broadband networks throughout the islands.
“Now that most carriers have largely restored service, it is time to authorize long-term funding to ensure that everyone in Puerto Rico and the USVI has access to the same high-speed fixed and mobile broadband networks as other Americans,” Pai said.
The draft Order would create incentives for the deployment of gigabit-speed fixed broadband and 5G, the next generation of wireless connectivity, on the islands.
“My goal is simple: I want everyone in Puerto Rico and the USVI to be connected with digital opportunity,” Pai said.