Telecom Board to oversee Universal Service Fund
The Puerto Rico Telecommunications Regulatory Board has been authorized by law to take over the management of the Universal Service Fund, a task that has been handled by New Jersey-based Solix Inc. for almost a decade.
The recently signed amendment to Law 213 of 1996 enables the TRB to retain the responsibility of overseeing the USF, or hiring an independent administrator.
The TRB has reportedly paid some $2.5 million since 2001 to the manager of the fund, over which it has the final word regarding how, when and which of the benefiting companies gets paid. The TRB reportedly pays $12,500 a month to the third-party provider, but the agency has stated it has enough able staff to manage the USF and eliminate that expense.
Charging telecom companies a quarterly fee supports the USF program. The money is used to provide quality telecom services to all segments of the population and geographical areas of Puerto Rico.
This service includes at least: access to all public switched telephone network capable of transmitting voice; touch-tone service per private line; free access to emergency services, among them the 911 emergency service; and access to operator service, among others.
“The TRB has the personnel and internal controls necessary to ensure sound management of Universal Service Fund,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said, upon signing the amendment.
“All of its operations are carried out in accordance with accounting standards applicable to the government and the entire process of collection, management, disbursement and use of money from the USF will be audited by the Comptroller’s Office,” he said.
“So, the function of administering the fund would not be strange or inappropriate to the work done by the Board on a daily basis,” said the governor.
The amendment, proposed by Sen. Miguel Laureano, will allow the TRB to manage the fund, representing possible savings of $150,000 a year.
However, sources said giving the TRB the authority to either oversee or outsource the job of managing the USF fund “opens the door to cronyism. The firm that managed the fund was based in the U.S. mainland, and was inexpensive and apolitical.”
At present the USF has an available balance of a little more than $2 million, with a deficit of some $19 million, which will be covered by this year’s fees.
TRB President Sandra Torres said the money saved from outsourcing the service will be used to cover the fund’s deficit and subsequently will be used for the construction and implementation of Internet services and data to serve the neediest sectors Puerto Rico.