Puerto Rico telecom board to present state of communications after Hurricane María to FCC
SAN JUAN – The chairwoman of the Telecommunications Regulatory Board of Puerto Rico, Sandra Torres, announced Thursday that she will present the state of telecommunications on the island to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, four months after the passage of the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico.
The hearing is scheduled for Jan. 21 in Washington, D.C. Likewise, Torres also announced that she appointed the architect Héctor Barriera to coordinate with the Working Group appointed by Pai, on the progress of the efforts on both levels.
In response to Torres’s request, the FCC chairman also invited her to present her point of view to the Hurricane Response Working Group created by Pai.
Torres had requested the FCC chairman the inclusion of Puerto Rico in the fund for the development of telecommunications infrastructure on the island, after an initial evaluation carried out after the impact of Hurricane Maria in the Telecommunications sector in Puerto Rico.
“Puerto Rico deserves a new support mechanism for the high-cost fund that provides significant incentives for the development of the telecommunications infrastructure, whose costs are very high particularly in the mountainous area,” she explained in a written statement.
In a letter sent in December, the chairwoman explained that “after a careful evaluation of the impact of Hurricane María on telecommunications, we have to conclude that it is necessary for Puerto Rico to have a more resilient and robust telecommunications service that is driven by diverse technologies such as cabling (fiber and copper), wireless, satellite, microwave, temporary technology such as Cells on Wheels (COW), as well as buried and aerial infrastructure,” Torres said in a letter requesting a hearing from the FCC chairman.
This support mechanism, which comes from the FCC’s high-cost fund, is the same as jurisdictions like Alaska and the native lands have access to.
Last October, the chairman of the FCC issued an order for a $74 million advance from the Universal Service Fund to companies that offer telephony service in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to board estimates, telecoms on the island had $1.2 billion in damages.
As Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has established, restoring communications to their optimum level is a priority in this recovery phase. In accordance with that guideline, the chairwoman asserted in her letter that the authorized advance “may not be enough support to allow for isolated communities to be reconnected, nor to receive access to broadband infrastructure, which is vital for their development in the coming decades.”
The chairwoman suggested to the FCC chairman that dialogue toward “finding solutions for those rural and isolated communities affected by two hurricanes in a single month” begin.
Until Jan. 9, cellular connectivity on the island was 96.5% restored, with 2,423 of 2,659 antennas in operation.