Puerto Rico telecom board testifies about action taken after Hurricane Maria
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico’s Telecommunications Regulatory Board Chairwoman Sandra Torres informed Friday about the work carried out ahead of this year’s hurricane season, including a revised emergency plan that considers the sector’s needs after the passage of Hurricane Maria last year.
“The restoration and reconstruction of the telecommunications infrastructure in Puerto Rico is a priority for our governor and the board, so on January 20, 2018, he signed Act 5-2018, which amended the 2013 law to declare telecommunications an essential service. That is why our goal is to foster the development of a resilient and robust infrastructure, which allows citizens to have more and better telecommunications services,” the chairwoman said in a statement.
Torres testified Friday before the island’s Senate in a public hearing chaired by Sen. Henry Newmann, in relation to Senate Resolution 708, filed on April 16, 2018. The resolution’s objective is “…ordering the Public Safety Commission of the Senate of Puerto Rico to carry out a thorough investigation on the governmental response following the passage of Hurricanes Irma and María through the Caribbean; and into the actions to prepare for the new 2018 hurricane season.”
The chairwoman explained that “the complete restoration of the telecommunications service is directly related to the restoration of electric power service. However, the board, in addition to having primary jurisdiction over telecommunications services, by federal mandate also belongs to the hierarchy of Emergency Support Function 2 [ESF 2], in charge of telecommunication support functions.”
“Currently, the Board is working closely with the Federal Communications Commission to identify tools that allow us to boost the development of broadband and improve the telecommunications infrastructure throughout the country, particularly in the mountainous region. In addition, the board is considering making isolated-community projects viable, as established in our Universal Service Regulations, as amended, Regulation 7795,” Torres said.
Torres explained that in March, the federal and local agencies presented the Critical Infrastructure for 2018 Hurricane Season report. It makes way for the implementation of actions to achieve a more robust infrastructure before the hurricane season.
“Among the works carried out or in development are 60 satellite terminals, satellite data and voice terminals in the 13 emergency management zones and in the Prema [Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency] Central Office, EAS [Emergency Alert System] in Puerto Rico in conjunction with IPAWS [Integrated Public Alert and Warning System] to issue notices of emergencies locally, 80 radio stations in communications around Puerto Rico in locations designated as critical, installation of generators in critical government structures, and finally coordination with amateur-radio associations and groups [KP4, call sign assigned to amateur radio operators in Puerto Rico] as an alternate method of communication during the emergency.
“Soon, we will be signing a Cooperation Agreement to create a Radio Amateur Bank, for communications in emergency situations,” the official assured.
In addition, in preparation for the hurricane season, she said, the board’s plan contemplates burying the coastal and metropolitan area
fiber optic loops, and installing new equipment at its headquarters as well as stronger utility poles under new standards, among others.
Regarding the telecom board’s response in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the testimony included a breakdown of the action taken to restore telecommunications and the preparations for the new hurricane season, once Gov. Ricardo Rosselló activated the government’s emergency plan.
“The Board activated its Emergency Plan, activating its EOC [emergency operations center]. The work of the EOC was carried out in coordination with representatives of the telecommunications industry that make up the CITME [Spanish acronym for Telecommunications Industry Committee Emergency Management Cooperation Agreement]. In addition, the companies, at the request of our staff submitted daily information related to the status of their antennas (cell sites),” explained Torres López.
“As of September 22, 2017, the board began to work tirelessly, from the Government Command Center in the Dr. Pedro Rosselló Convention Center. On the initiative of the board and the Puerto Rico Innovation and Technology Services (Prits), in coordination with the governor, a center dedicated to the restoration of telecommunications in the country was established, which was operational seven days a week, with board staff, Prits, from each of the providers (technical, legal and executive officers), tower owners, FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency], Homeland Security and other dedicated staff, for the first time, to create an interactive map of critical infrastructure in Puerto Rico.
“Likewise, all the aforementioned people met daily at 3 p.m. since the hurricane, including Saturdays and Sundays, to address industry matters such as fuel, generators, parts, lack of access to facilities, security, problems and advances, collaborative agreements, [optical] fiber faults among others. From these daily meetings and the progress achieved, informed by the companies themselves, daily reports were submitted to the Governor.”
After Maria, the board said, it pushed several initiatives such as municipal exemption of permits to help speed up the reconstruction of the network and issued an Executive Order for Access to Private Property, authorizing agencies, mainly FEMA, to use whichever means it deemed necessary to access telecom towers, dedicated facilities and related infrastructure on private property.
The board also recalled it sought a Treasury Department exemption for telecom infrastructure at the ports; a Permits & Endorsements Management Office exemption from ordinary processing of construction and urban permits and payment to certain essential activities affected by Maria.
The chairwoman pointed out that on Nov. 5, or 46 days after Maria, 50% of service was restored. The number of current towers is 1,619. There are 2,659 cell sites; and providers have 1,800 electric generators in optimal conditions, it was said.
The board assured it continues ensuring that providers comply with their restoration work plans throughout the island.