FCC approves additional funding to restore communications in Puerto Rico, USVI
SAN JUAN — The Federal Communications Commission announced Tuesday that it approved additional immediate funding to accelerate the restoration of communications networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that were damaged and destroyed during the 2017 hurricane season.
The FCC is also seeking comment on injecting nearly $900 million “in medium- and long-term funding into expanding and improving broadband access on the islands.” To accomplish these goals, the agency created the Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund (Bringing Puerto Rico Together Fund) and the Connect USVI Fund.
According to the release, the FCC order and “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” includes:
- An immediate infusion of approximately $64 million in additional funding for short-term restoration efforts.
- Conversion of $65.8 million in advanced funding the Commission provided last year to carriers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands into new funding by declining to recover that advanced funding from future universal service support payments.
- Solicitation of public comment on a proposal to allocate over the next decade for the expansion of fixed broadband connectivity approximately $444.5 million in funding for Puerto Rico and $186.5 million for the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Solicitation of public comment on a proposal to allocate approximately $259 million in medium-term funding for the expansion of 4G LTE mobile broadband connectivity in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“To expedite buildout, opportunities for the first stage of funding are open to all facilities-based providers in Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands of voice and broadband service, subject to receiving an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) designation. To participate, providers must certify their eligibility no later than 14 days after publication of the Order in the Federal Register,” the FCC explained.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has visited Puerto Rico twice since the hurricane hit last year. He also visited Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in March.
“During my visits to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, I saw that it was critical for the FCC to not only address today’s urgent needs, but to look ahead to support the broadband networks the islands need to thrive in the 21st Century,” Pai says in the agency’s press release.
The FCC has “offered the territories nearly $77 million in advanced universal service funding to help recovery, accelerated the post-incentive auction transition to support Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands broadcasters, granted temporary waivers of Lifeline’s recertification rules, expedited approval of experimental licenses for Alphabet’s Project Loon to provide Internet access to residents, approved targeted and flexible E-Rate support to help restore connectivity of schools and libraries, and granted more than 500 waivers and requests for Special Temporary Authority (STA) to help re-establish communications in hurricane-affected areas,” the release reads.
In her separate statement, Jessica Rosenworcel, one of the five FCC commissioners, described her visit six months after Maria and said that the new funds to help with restoration efforts and additional funds to support communications “cannot mask a more fundamental failure in the aftermath of this humanitarian crisis.”
She said that following past storms, the FCC held public hearings, issued reports and itemized the best practices and policy changes that would strengthen the agency’s response in future disasters.
“But despite the epic devastation from Hurricane Maria, the FCC failed to hold any public hearings to discuss this communications disaster in the affected area. The FCC refused to do even a basic report as we have done in the past. This is a shame. Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands deserve the same treatment from this agency as communities on the mainland. Moreover, this was a lost opportunity because efforts like these could have informed our approach in this rulemaking. Our failure to do even a simple assessment on par with what has been done in the past through hearings and reports is an ugly mistake. In this regard, I dissent.”