White House assigns $164M to further broadband access in Puerto Rico
Following a summit that gathered Puerto Rico and US government officials at the White House, the Biden-Harris administration outlined a series of initiatives to continue boosting the island’s economic growth, including a $164 million allocation to expand the deployment of broadband access to remote areas.
The US Department of the Treasury and the government of Puerto Rico will work to approve plans for $158 million from the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund to deliver high-speed internet access to households and businesses who currently lack access, particularly in poor communities and remote areas with inadequate service.
Meanwhile, the Puerto Rico Office of Management and Budget (OGP, in Spanish), in coordination with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC), will fully establish a Broadband Program Office to coordinate and oversee broadband initiatives across the island.
The Broadband Program will work to advance high-speed internet planning, infrastructure, adoption, and access across the island, with NTIA providing technical assistance and $5.7 million under its Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) and Digital Equity programs.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Puerto Rico Economic Growth Coordinator, Don Graves, also announced a Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program and Digital Equity Planning Grant award for Puerto Rico, which would allow the island to deploy infrastructure and adopt programs to expand high-speed internet access and support digital skills training and workforce development plans.
Long ‘to-do’ list
The meeting, which drew participation from dozens of local and federal government officials produced an extensive “to-do” list for 2023 “to make transformational change on the island” by addressing issues of economic growth such as improving Puerto Rico’s power grid, boosting agriculture, and establishing inter-agency agreements between Puerto Rico and stateside counterparts.
As part of the strategy, President Joe Biden established the White House Working Group on Puerto Rico to coordinate federal efforts, co-chaired by Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice, National Economic Advisor Brian Deese, and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Julie Rodriguez
Over the next 12 months, both governments will take steps together to:
Strengthen human capital and workforce development to create more good jobs and training opportunities in high-growth industries for Puerto Rico’s workers. That includes a $50 million investment from the government of Puerto Rico to launch the 21st Century Workforce Project to build workforce training infrastructure across the higher education and technical college systems.
The Puerto Rico Department of Education and the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC, in Spanish), with technical assistance from the Department of Education, will also update Puerto Rico’s Career & Technical Education curriculum to align it more closely with the island’s labor industry needs.
The governments will also invest in infrastructure, energy, and resilience to ensure Puerto Rico can withstand future natural disasters and support a thriving, sustainable economy.
They will implement strategies to “build a diversified economy that promotes innovation, competition, access to capital, and entrepreneurship, particularly for Puerto Rico’s small businesses.”
That includes a partnership between the Department of the Treasury and the Puerto Rico Economic Development Bank (BDE, in Spanish) to launch Puerto Rico’s State Small Business Credit Initiative programs, using more than $100 million in federal capital funding from the American Rescue Plan to provide credit for small businesses and draw up to $1 billion in additional private financing to support the expansion of small businesses, entrepreneurs, and good-paying jobs in Puerto Rico.
Meanwhile, the Minority Business Development Administration (MBDA) will provide technical assistance to increase access to capital and government contracting for businesses in Puerto Rico and host an Investor Summit in Puerto Rico together with the Department of the Treasury, the US Small Business Administration, the Puerto Rico Treasury Department, and the DDEC.
SBA, the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions (OCIF, in Spanish), and the Public Corporation for the Supervision and Insurance of Puerto Rico Cooperatives (COSSEC, in Spanish) will promote access to capital by delivering a lender training series focused on increasing participation in SBA loan programs by Puerto Rican financial institutions, with a focus on Community Development Corporations, Community Development Financial Institutions, and Minority Depository Institutions.
Furthermore, the SBA and the Puerto Rico General Service Administration will support small businesses in Puerto Rico through entrepreneurial development training, counseling, and the export assistance programs, and work to ensure that federal agencies increase Puerto Rico-based procurement efforts, particularly for Small Disadvantaged Businesses.
Roosevelt Roads on the radar
Another inter-agency push calls for improving governance and data collection and analysis in Puerto Rico to support greater transparency, access to information, administrative capacity, and a more robust business climate for Puerto Rico residents.
Also established at the meeting was an initiative by the US Department of Defense (DOD) to invest $1.5 million to enable the Local Redevelopment Authority for the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station to carry out infrastructure and development projects, in partnership with DDEC and the Office of the Governor of Puerto Rico.
Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) will establish the Rural Partners Network in 15 municipalities, identifying priority economic development projects and hiring four new federal staff in Puerto Rico to help these places navigate and access federal funding.
The US Department of Agriculture will also increase direct outreach, Spanish translation, and local partnerships to build awareness of federal programs available to support Puerto Rico’s rural and agricultural community, including the deployment of a new Emergency Conservation Program for agricultural communities impacted by Hurricane Fiona.
The DOD and DDEC will each invest approximately $2 million to bring LIFT, an advanced manufacturing research & development facility, to Puerto Rico. LIFT will invest an additional $2 million in this public-private partnership to further develop the technological capacity of the island’s manufacturers and provide advanced manufacturing training opportunities.
Finally, the government of Puerto Rico will expand its Citizen Information Portal (PIC) to include the projects and actions committed to in the Economic Dialogue, to foster transparency and accountability for progress on these initiatives.
“The portal is … focused on open data applications and includes downloadable information about all local agencies. Our commitment is to add the data from our work here, organized according to the four priorities we have established, and even including specific initiatives such as funding opportunities and deliverables,” Pierluisi said during a press conference held in the White House.