Upon completing more than 90 percent of the restoration of its network post-María, Liberty Puerto Rico has now undertaken the task of burying as much as it can of its 14,000 miles of fiber-optic cable through which it offers its islandwide service.
Naji Khoury, president of Liberty Puerto Rico, said the job is costly, entails significant efforts and will take a while to complete, but the goal is to make the network as resilient as possible to face future natural disasters.
“We’ve started with the fiber ring. For the past nine months, our priority has been to restore service to customers to begin generating revenue again. Now we’re done with the restoration and are looking at the bigger picture,” said Khoury in an interview with this media outlet. “We’re burying fiber and thinking about the long-term.”
The multi-year program, for which Liberty has yet to determine the estimated cost, requires “a massive amount of design and permits. We’re doing as much as we can to cover the fiber ring and the main distribution points, so in case of another disaster, we only have to repair here and there, instead of the entire network,” he said.
Burying cables is not an easy task in Puerto Rico, because the work is mostly done roadside, “and here, the roads are badly marked, there are power and water facilities on both ends and mountains are not rock, but dirt, so there are mudslides,” he said.
Although sharing existing underground conduits is not a possibility yet, Khoury said government authorities are considering adopting the concept.
“In the government’s transformation plan, there’s a significant portion that talks about resiliency and strengthening the telecom network, including the cost of burying cables,” he said.
Alongside that project, Liberty is also working on restoring service to the remaining small pockets of customers left without service. The company stated that more than 90 percent of its residential customers and 100 percent of B2B fiber customers have been reconnected.
It also reported that its sales numbers for the second quarter of the year surpassed prior-year pre-hurricane levels.
“We’re basically back to business as usual and the results demonstrate it,” said Khoury. “Q2 2018 was a good quarter for us. Our quarterly sales numbers were the highest since August 2015. Also, Liberty’s business division continues to grow driven by our fast recovery and quality of service.”
Hurricanes Irma and María left a path of destruction in their wake that represented a near total collapse of the island’s telecommunications network. For Liberty Puerto Rico, the storms dealt a $140 million blow in destroyed network facilities.
This week, Liberty Puerto Rico learned that it was selected among 13 providers to receive recovery funds from the Federal Communications Commission, as this media outlet reported. The company received more than $11 million in the first round of FCC funding.
“This is very good news and we expected it as part of the Stage 1 funding that was announced. The funding is designated with a very clear purpose to help fund the restoration effort, help strengthen the network and safeguard it for the next hurricane or natural disaster,” Khoury said.
He said with the FCC’s assignment, it will be able to cover some of the costs it has already incurred and spend some on addressing as much as it can of the 10 percent of clients it has yet to reach.
“It’s a hard process because many of those customers are gone. They migrated to the U.S. [mainland] or they left their home because they’re repairing it. We’re analyzing if it’s worth it to go back to those areas. We’re only a weeks away from determining what we’ll do,” he said.
Regarding Liberty Puerto Rico’s progress, Liberty Latin America’s CEO Balan Nair said, “Our team in Puerto Rico has made remarkable progress in its recovery efforts and its network rebuild is nearly complete. Our sales have surpassed pre-hurricane levels in both the residential and B2B segments, registering strong growth. We’re very proud of the work Liberty Puerto Rico has made in its recovery and we are confident its performance will continue to improve.”