The head of the Puerto Rico Telecommunications Alliance, Felipe Hernández, called on lawmakers to hold public hearings on House Bill 1333, which the group claims would increase the internet and cellular service bills for local consumers and could bankrupt nearly 100 Puerto Rican small businesses that serve more than 300,000 subscribers.
Hernández demanded that House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez and Reinaldo Vargas, chairman of the House Municipal Affairs Commission to give an opportunity for telecom sectors to express themselves publicly about Senate Bill 1333.
“Transparency in government affairs is essential for democracy. We’re a group of Puerto Rican entrepreneurs whose only request is to be heard and that the island can understand the disastrous repercussions of this piece of legislation. They didn’t even have the consideration of consulting with the regulator, the Telecommunications Bureau. This proves that they’re hiding something,” said Hernández.
The Telecom Alliance comprises providers offering internet, television and telephony services, namely: Aeronet; Claro; Data Access; Liberty Puerto Rico; Neptuno; Optivon; VPNet; and WorldNet.
Hernández also expressed concern over the approval of this measure that puts at risk some 7,500 direct jobs and thousands more indirect jobs.
The bill is allegedly the result of a bipartisan group of local mayors that came together to propose an increase in property taxes of between 300% and 2,000%, he said.
“This increase is not only illegal, in the case of the internet, it’s immoral. Puerto Rican entrepreneurs have given their all to keep the internet working to support the economy, we have made huge investments to meet demand and we have worked with the client who does not have anything with which to pay because they’re jobless,” Hernández said.
Since the bill was filed, the Legislature has held one hearing, getting testimony from members of the Mayors Federation and Association, who defended the measure. Majority Speaker Gabriel Rodríguez-Aguiló apparently posted on his social media pages that he would hold a hearing this week, but has not set a date, Hernández said.
On Monday, small and mid-sized telecom companies staged a drive-by protest in the area near the Capitol building, pressuring for public hearings. The group circled the building for close to two hours.
It is estimated that there are close to 100 small and medium-sized businesses in Puerto Rico that provide internet services, serving 300,0000 clients, mostly residing in the rural areas of the island, the trade group said.