Puerto Rico gov’t lobbies for extension of federal broadband subsidy program
As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced the impending termination of the broadband subsidy program that aids about 653,000 Puerto Rican households, the island’s government is taking steps to “present the urgency that Puerto Rico be included in the extension of the program.”
As News is my Business reported, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which provides participants a $30 monthly broadband service subsidy, is expected to end in April due to a lack of additional funding from Congress.
“There are some bills introduced in Congress to allocate funds to the program. On the part of the Government of Puerto Rico, we have outlined several strategies aimed at presenting accurate data about the households that benefit from the program on the island,” said Enrique Völckers-Nin, deputy secretary of the government’s Innovation, Information, Data and Technology Program.
Data collected by the Smart Island program show 652,783 registered households in Puerto Rico under the ACP, while the FCC estimates there are 360,000 participating households, a significant disparity.
As of November 2023, the ACP represented more than $386 million invested in Puerto Rico. Currently, 66 internet providers offer ACP, the local government confirmed.
Volckers-Nin called on local internet providers “to provide timely data that will help in the collection of information that will help effectively communicate the general impact that the ACP has in Puerto Rico during the different meetings they will hold with the federal government.”
That data sought include the current ACP customer total, customer numbers per municipality and any other information that the provider believes is of value or can help illustrate the negative impact that ACP’s termination would have on Puerto Rico.
Last week, News is my Business attempted to obtain that information from providers, who cited FCC restrictions against public disclosure.
Congress introduced the ACP through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2021 with a $14.2 billion appropriation. The FCC was tasked with the development and implementation of the ACP, including outreach and awareness efforts. Currently, the program assists more than 22 million households.
As of January 2024, Congress has not appropriated additional funds to extend the ACP beyond April. As a result, the FCC has started taking steps to close the program.
“We will soon go to the federal capital to meet with the FCC, as well as several members of Congress to present to them the urgency for Puerto Rico to be included in the extension of the program, if approved,” stated Völckers-Nin. “There is certainly a clear need for this discount to continue benefiting eligible households.”
If no additional funds are allocated, Feb. 7 will be the deadline for new ACP applications and registrations.
“We’re working hand in hand with other states, territories and with the telecommunications industry to find viable solutions that allow the continuation of this discount for eligible households,” Völckers-Nin added.
“We’re sending letters to different members of Congress and governors who are working in the same direction, given that a critical sector of Puerto Rico will be affected by the program’s end. If a public hearing on the issue occurs in Washington, we’re waiting to participate and be able to comment on the impact on Puerto Rico,” he concluded.