Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi told members of Congress Tuesday Puerto Rico needs to “have the correct policies in place, on both the federal and local level, to enable households and businesses … to access and adopt high-speed Internet and other modern telecommunications services at affordable rates.”
At a 31 percent usage level, Puerto Rico’s broadband usage level is significantly below the U.S. mainland’s 67 percent average. Bridging the gap, Pierluisi said, requires understanding the nature and scope of the problem and coming up with a comprehensive strategy to address it.
That job is currently in the hands of the Puerto Rico Broadband Taskforce, which last month unveiled the strategic plan to expand broadband access and use on the island to 50 percent by 2013 through public and private efforts.
Pierluisi headed a delegation that included Puerto Rico’s Chief Information Officer, Juan Eugenio Rodríguez, Telecommunications Regulatory Board President Sandra Torres, Puerto Rico Bridge Initiative Executive Carlo Marazzi, Arthur Fernández del Valle, in representation of the island’s health care providers, and Oscar Jiménez, executive director of the Central Eastern Technological Initiative, or Inteco. More than 50 people participated in the forum, this media outlet learned.
During the meeting, Marazzi brought up the issue of funding, saying that the island’s low broadband adoption rate, coupled with the lowest household income levels in the nation, are not helping the matter.
“We cannot wait until people adopt to start building – we have to invest now,” Marazzi said. “The plan discusses some strategies, including the creation of an Open Access Network under a [public-private partnership] model which would provide passive, dark infrastructure to broadband providers in particularly uneconomical areas where facilities do not exist.”
“Puerto Rico’s unique situation does warrant additional federal funding to address the deep digital divide,” he said.
Policymakers need to act
The local group is working closely with nonprofit organization Connect America, which participated in Tuesday’s gathering in Washington D.C. For Pierluisi, policymakers in Puerto Rico and the nation’s Capital are also responsible for analyzing the contents of the report and implementing the Task Force’s recommendations.
“Since 2009, I have been urging the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that it recognizes the digital divide between Puerto Rico and the rest of the United States and that it crafts policies designed to mitigate, and ultimately eliminate, this divide,” he said.
The FCC’s role in Puerto Rico’s broadband adoption was brought to question during a recent Congressional hearing, when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), raised his concerns about the fate of island consumers to regulators, questioning why the national broadband plan is not factoring the island as part of the U.S.
As this media outlet reported, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski responded by saying that while Puerto Rico is “very much part of our plans,” he said funding has to be made available to be able to reach the island.
On the island, close to 86 percent of homes have access to broadband and 177,000 homes access it either via mobile or satellite technology. In contrast, in the majority of the U.S. mainland jurisdictions, more than 95 percent of homes have access to broadband.
“In this age, so much of our professional and personal lives depend upon technology, especially the Internet. Those jurisdictions that lack access to these modern communication and information tools will fall further behind their more well-connected counterparts,” Pierluisi said. “Their economies will struggle and the quality of life of their citizens will suffer. That’s why Puerto Rico’s leaders are advocating for a national telecommunications policy that does not leave our island behind.”
Today, Torres, Rodríguez and Marazzi will be meeting with the FCC commissioners, including Genachowski to discuss the local broadband plan and the impact that recent FCC reforms and policy changes will have on Puerto Rico, including the Connect America reform and the FCC’s “Connect to Compete” program.