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Puerto Rico gets $158M in federal funds for 2 broadband programs

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced that Puerto Rico will receive an additional $158 million allocation from the U.S. Treasury Department to develop broadband infrastructure that includes building two new submarine fiber-optic cables to boost resiliency and reliability of internet services.

During a news conference in Washington, D.C., Joseph Wender, director of the Capital Projects Fund at the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Recovery, explained that the funding will be divided to cover two initiatives: $85.7 million for the Puerto Rico submarine cable resiliency program, which will construct a new submarine fiber route to the island from the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands and create three new cable landing stations on the island’s coastlines; and $64.7 million to fund the Puerto Rico Multipurpose Community Technology Center program, which seeks to establish namesake centers throughout the island.

Another $7.9 million has been allocated in administrative funds, rounding out the $158 million assignment, local government officials said.

“This is a critical part of the president’s commitment to uplifting families and creating an economy that works for everyone and, at Treasury, we’re excited for the opportunities that these funds will create in Puerto Rico,” Wender said.

Under the first initiative, the government will oversee the construction of a fiber-optic cable ring around the island to “break away from the island’s current reliance on old existing subsea optical fiber cables,” said Gov. Pedro Pierluisi.

“This new fiber submarine connectivity will provide diverse landing points around our island to mitigate the impact of potential hazards and enable communication restoration through alternative routes in the face of our exposure to potential natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes,” said the governor, who traveled to Washington for the announcement.

“This new infrastructure will also connect to data centers to be built to serve our potential commercial and industrial needs, such as data storage service centers for multinational enterprises,” he added, acknowledging the assistance of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Meanwhile, the Multipurpose Community Technology Center program calls for establishing an islandwide network of nearly 4,000 so-called community anchor institutions — including churches, colleges, government buildings, hospitals and schools that will have at least 1 gigabyte available — and 30 smaller-scale internet centers where island residents can access technological equipment and broadband connections.

“These centers aim to empower residents, particularly those residing in underserved areas on the island,” Pierluisi said.

To date, the Biden administration has allocated nearly $500 million for Puerto Rico’s broadband programs: $334.6 million from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment Program; $158 million from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Capital Projects Fund; and $740,000 from the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Grant program.

The local government is contributing $400 million from its Broadband Infrastructure Fund, bringing the total funding available to about $900 million. The objective is to blanket the island with broadband in five years, the government has stated.

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 30 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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