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FCC commissioner warns Puerto Rico governor: Stop raiding 9-1-1 fees

By on April 30, 2018

SAN JUAN – In his second letter to Puerto Rico’s governor, Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly says he would “find it difficult” to support that additional Universal Service Funds be granted to rebuild the communications infrastructure on the island if 9-1-1 fees continue to be diverted to non-related or non-public safety purposes.

In a press conference Monday, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said the FCC was “essentially” accusing the island’s previous administration. “We have already been working with this. There was a misuse of 9-1-1 funds and we, as well as Secretary [Héctor] Pesquera and the directors of 9-1-1, have been communicating to let them know how it’s going to be corrected, where that capital will be drawn from and how it will be used properly.”

He added that although the commissioner was making an accusation, “and we acknowledge it, of great seriousness, but it is important that the people of Puerto Rico know this does not arise from a current matter. It arises from a misuse of resources that had already been previously discussed,” Rosselló said, adding, “there is genuine concern there [at the FCC] and our commitment is to work to mitigate those concerns and give them guarantees, both to the FCC and to the entire world, that those funds are going to be used appropriately.”

Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly (

On March 1, after sending letters to the governors of  New York, Oklahoma, Missouri, Montana, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico on Feb. 20, O’Rielly reiterated that the states and territories that failed to report information to the FCC regarding its 9-1-1 fee “diversion practices” could be undermining the “ability of local public safety emergency call centers to modernize,” and that the “issue is equivalent to tying public safety officials’ hands behind their backs during a major crisis and praying that things will work out. It isn’t right and it isn’t smart,” he wrote.

“The Commission relies on states and territories to self-report whether and to what extent they divert 9-1-1 fees for other purposes. This information is then supplied to Congress, which has the important job of determining what policies may be needed to ensure that sufficient funds are provided for 9-1-1 services,” the commissioner reminded the governors.

O’Reilly asked the governors to answer why their jurisdiction failed to respond to the request for information, what steps they took to “rectify the failure,” and if fees were being diverted, how much and for what functions. Read the letter here.

Rosselló replied to O’Reilly on March 7,  a day after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed that $954 million be directed toward “restoring and expanding” communications networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that were damaged by September’s hurricanes via a plan that includes “repurposing universal service support currently directed” to Puerto Rico and the USVI.

The Universal Service Fund provides federal subsidies to companies to make communications services more accessible and affordable in places where the cost is high.

In his letter to O’Reilly, the governor included the commonwealth’s unfiled 9-1-1 fee annual collection form. He explained to O’Rielly that it had not been filed due to a clerical error. The governor said the island’s 9-1-1 Office would create a Compliance Guide to “better collect and file future requests,” and said former Gov. Alejandro García Padilla had legally diverted $243,100 in 9-1-1 fee savings to the Puerto Rico Trade & Export Co.’s Workforce Development Promotion Fund.

“Of all places, I do not think I need to remind you how important 9-1-1 services can be during critical times of need,” O’Rielly wrote to Rosselló, adding that if surpluses were being achieved, those fees should not be collected from residents, who have faced sufferd great hardship in the aftermath of last year’s hurricanes.

In Friday’s letter to Rosselló, the commissioner expects a response as to whether the governor supports such “budgetary maneuvers,” and if he has the authority to “rectify” the diversion of funds and direct them toward network upgrades or returning them to residents.

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According to the FCC, it can “increase the pressure and force states to end this despicable practice” by barring the imposition of 9-1-1 fees on interstate calls, prohibiting interstate services from being included as revenue sources, preventing providers from collecting universal service fees in excess of what is required for the universal service fund, and excluding any person from a diverting state from participating on a Commission Advisory Committee.

The commissioner also warned that Congress could curb the practice of diverting 9-1-1 funds apply existing law or exerting leverage by conditioning grants and funds.

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