Gov’t creates Puerto Rico Broadband Program; Joins ‘Internet for All’ initiative
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi announced the signing of an executive order creating the Puerto Rico Broadband Program, which seeks to bridge the local digital gap.
The strategy coincides with Puerto Rico’s participation in the Biden-Harris Administration’s “Internet for All” initiative, that seeks to connect people to affordable, reliable high-speed internet.
The $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program enables states and territories to expand high-speed internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment and adoption programs.
A separate State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program supports developing digital skills training and workforce development plans. In total, President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, funds $65 billion to ensure all Americans have access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet.
Digital Equity applications were due July 12th and all Letters of Intent to participate in the BEAD program were submitted ahead of the July 18th deadline.
“Bringing high-speed, affordable Internet to all of America will require a whole-of-nation effort. Today America’s state and local leaders have spoken as one nation committed to bridging the digital divide,” said Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications, and Information.
“Connecting America means leaving no community behind, and we are heartened by the bipartisan commitment to ensuring that all Americans have reliable, affordable Internet service and the skills needed to thrive in our modern digital world,” he said.
The State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program is the first step for states, territories, and Tribal Nations to develop their digital equity plans, with $1.4 billion funding available later to fund specific projects. NTIA will announce the allocation of the $60 million Equity Planning Grant Program funds by Sept. 29.
Initial planning fund applications for the BEAD program are due Aug. 15, 2022.
Puerto Rico has received $2.265 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs to build out broadband on the island. Executive Order 2022-040 creates the Broadband Program in Puerto Rico that will integrate a comprehensive Strategic Plan.
“The Government of Puerto Rico recognizes the importance of broadband in the economic development of the island and its municipalities, for which it considers it essential to develop a short, medium and long-term plan to guarantee access to this service for all citizens,” said Pierluisi.
To that end, the government committed to building the necessary infrastructure with the funds to close the existing digital gap. The Office of Management and Budget (OGP, in Spanish) has been required to “coordinate, authorize and execute the disbursement of local and federal funds assigned to Puerto Rico.”
The Broadband Program will be run by an Advisory Board that includes Enrique Völckers-Nin the government deputy secretary for innovation and technology; Puerto Rico Innovation and Technology Services (PRITS) Interim Director Nannette Martínez; and three representatives with decision-making power that come from the Telecommunications Bureau, the OGP and the Treasury Department.
This Program will make the funds available to the private sector and guides and processes will be published through a website.
The Advisory Board will also rely on the expertise on government and public administration matters from the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (AAFAF, in Spanish), the Permits Management Office (OGPe, in Spanish), the Highways and Transportation Authority, the Mayors Federation, the Mayors Association and the Puerto Rican Telecommunications Alliance.
The Advisory Board will be responsible coordinating with the agencies defined in the Strategic Plan the terms and conditions, as well as the contracts, guidelines, and documents with which all applicants and beneficiaries of the funds must comply.
Also, it will recommend to the governor the distribution of funds between programs and initiatives, promote collaboration agreements with federal and local entities and refer any irregularity detected in the use of funds to the Office of the Inspector General of the US Department of the Treasury and other relevant agencies.