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FCC chairman proposes $954 million plan for Puerto Rico, USVI

By on March 6, 2018

SAN JUAN — Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai proposed Tuesday to direct about $954 million toward “restoring and expanding” communications networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that were damaged by September’s hurricanes.

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González will be returning with Pai Wednesday for a roundtable with industry representatives to discuss the telecommunications’ recovery progress, the industry’s challenges and the proposed funding.

Pai will be traveling to Puerto Rico and USVI from March 7-10 to review recovery efforts, “evaluate lessons learned” from hurricanes Irma and Maria, and “prepare for the upcoming hurricane season,” according to his office.

The FCC chairman proposed to create a $750 million Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund (Bringing Puerto Rico Together Fund) and a $204 million Connect USVI Fund. According to an FCC release. Each of these would provide “additional short-term assistance for restoring communications networks” and “longer-term support for expanding broadband access” on the islands.

“The people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still recovering from last year’s devastating storms. That means the FCC’s work is far from over,” Pai says in the release. “After my previous visit to Puerto Rico, I publicly committed to ‘thinking creatively and doing proactively to help restore networks on the island.’ The plan I’ve proposed today would deliver on that commitment and extend that vision even further.”

According to Puerto Rico Telecommunications Regulatory Board data, as of Feb. 2, 98.5% of telecommunications are up and running and 2,487 of 2,671, or 93.11%, of the island’s cell sites are operational.

Reuters reports that, as of Monday, the FCC said 4.3 percent of cell sites in Puerto Rico and 14 percent of sites in the U.S. Virgin Islands remained out of service.

He further says that “with the 2018 hurricane season less than three months away, we need to take bold and decisive action. I hope that my fellow commissioners will join me in supporting the creation of the Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund and Connect USVI Fund.”

The following are included in the plan, per the release:

  • An immediate infusion of approximately $64 million in additional funding for short-term restoration efforts.
  • A proposal to allocate approximately $631 million in long-term funding for the restoration and expansion of fixed broadband connectivity in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • A proposal to allocate approximately $259 million in medium-term funding for the restoration and expansion of 4G LTE mobile broadband connectivity in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • The immediate conversion of the advanced funding the Commission provided last year to carriers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands into new funding by declining to offset that advanced funding against future universal service support payments.

The plan would be funded by providing approximately $256 million in new funds as well as “repurposing universal service support currently directed” to Puerto Rico and the USVI.

The plan needs FCC approval and would be largely funded by the Universal Service Fund, which provides federal subsidies to companies to make communications services more accessible and affordable in places where the cost is high.

FCC chairman to visit Puerto Rico, USVI in March

While in Puerto Rico, the officials will also meet with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to discuss advances related to fiber optics and they will end their work agenda with a meeting with radio stations.

More than a month ago, the FCC official agreed to the resident commissioner’s petition to allow local TV stations to access more broadcast channels, according to a release from González’s office.

–Reuters contributed to this report.

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