The Puerto Rico Telecommunications Regulatory Board on Friday shot down the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s claims that the regulator lacks jurisdiction in a fight over rates and access to public utilities launched last year by Liberty Cablevision of Puerto Rico.
In an 11-page decision, the TRB defended its duties against the utility, which claimed it is not a telecom company, although it has been engaging in this type of business through subsidiary PrepaNet for more than a decade.
The TRB’s resolve is the latest development in a case that began in June 2015, when Liberty filed a complaint stating that PREPA is illegally funding telecom operations it is carrying out via PrepaNet, and that those subsidies allow it to sell its services below costs — another violation to the law.
Liberty — which sells cable television, telephone and Internet services islandwide — also claimed PrepaNet has established “unfair, unreasonable and discriminatory” charges to telecom companies that need to use the utility’s facilities to provide services. Liberty asked the TRB to review PrepaNet’s basic wholesale and retail rates, and if it were to determine that are not based on cost, to set new rates for both segments.
The company also asked the regulatory agency to: set new “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” rates, as well as terms and conditions for telecom and cable companies needing to connect to PREPA/PrepaNet’s facilities, namely poles; and, to order PREPA/PrepaNet to reimburse all of the money charged illegally in violation of fair competition laws.
According to the timeline of the case, on Aug. 12, 2015, the TRB ordered PREPA and PrepaNet to submit comments on Liberty’s claims. But on Oct. 8, 2015, PrepaNet instead presented a motion to have the complaint dismissed for a lack of jurisdiction by the Board.
PrepaNet also claimed a clause of Law 213, known as the Telecom Regulatory Act of Puerto Rico, does not apply to the joint use of poles and how much it should charge companies needing to use them for services — another issue Liberty brought up.
In its decision, the TRB described PrepaNet’s defense arguments as “patently erroneous and irrelevant in law.” The agency confirmed that clauses within Law 213, which establishes the Commonwealth’s public policy on telecom-related matters, give it jurisdiction over the case. Furthermore, it stated the law also establishes that it is the duty of agencies and public corporations to make real estate and rights-of-way under their control to telecom companies.
The parties were notified of the TRB’s decision on Friday, this media outlet learned. They have 20 days to file a motion for reconsideration, while the board will have 15 days after receiving such a document to make a decision.
A group of Puerto Rico’s private-sector telecom carriers have been waging a battle against PrepaNet for years, stepping up their lobbying in recent months as PrepaNet gears up to move into new headquarters in Isla Verde.