FCC chair proposes $950 million for broadband in Puerto Rico, USVI

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (Gage Skidmore on Visualhunt)

Pai circulates draft order to harden networks, deploy gigabit fiber and 5G

SAN JUAN — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai circulated a draft order to agency commissioners that would provide approximately $950 million in funding to “storm-harden, improve, and expand broadband networks” in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. 

This is the second round of funding under the FCC’s Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund and Connect USVI Fund and follows $130 million in extra funding the commission provided to restore hurricane-damaged networks in Puerto Rico and the USVI since 2017.

The draft order will be considered at FCC’s monthly meeting Sept. 26, according to a release that included the following statement by Pai:

“The FCC took numerous steps to help restore communications in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following the devastating one-two punches delivered by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. But even as we were responding to immediate needs, we knew that we needed to have a long-term strategy to expand broadband availability in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, improve broadband networks on these islands, and help protect these networks against future storms. That’s why we created the Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund and the Connect USVI Fund.

“This draft Order would deliver on that strategy by allocating about $950 million in federal universal service support for Stage 2 of the Funds.  Significant work has been done to restore connectivity. Now, this new funding would support deployment of the networks of tomorrow, including gigabit fiber and 5G, in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It would also help ensure that Americans living there will be able to fully participate in the digital economy and remain connected when they need it most. Our goal is simple: to provide everyone in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with digital opportunity.”

Liberty Puerto Rico: Nearly all customers reconnected after Hurricane Maria

SAN JUAN – Liberty Puerto Rico–which offers video, internet and telephony for residential and business customers–made several announcements Thursday, emphasizing that its network-restoration process following last year’s hurricane season is nearly complete, and continues working “on the remaining small pockets of customers left without service.”

The company said that more than 90% of its residential customers and 100% of its B2B (business-to-business) fiber customers have been reconnected. It also reported that its second quarter (Q2 2018) sales surpassed those of the same period last year.

“We are basically back to business as usual and the results demonstrate it,” said Naji Khoury, president of Liberty Puerto Rico. “Q2 2018 was a good quarter for us. Our quarterly sales numbers were the highest since August 2015. Also, Liberty’s business division continues to grow driven by our fast recovery and quality of service.”

During the quarter, the company introduced such products as a new video-on-demand platform and an electronics protection plan, Smart Protect.

The company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS), which measures customer satisfaction, reached the highest level since it started using the tool in 2016.

“As more Puerto Ricans returned to the island during the recovery period, we saw a significant increase in the volume of customers calling to have their services reconnected,” Khoury added. “We are also registering a higher number of customers that are very satisfied with their services, which tells us that our efforts and investments to provide the best customer experience possible are paying off.”

Naji Khoury, president of Liberty Puerto Rico (Courtesy)

Despite the damages caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria, Liberty is Ookla Puerto Rico’s Speedtest Awards winner for fixed-network speed during Q3–Q4 2017. It achieved top download and upload speeds of 62.8 megabits per second (Mbps) and 9.31 Mbps, respectively.

Khoury said the company has started executing a plan to bury fiber and has also established agreements with suppliers “for easier and faster access to fuel, materials, generators, and labor pool, if necessary,” as part of its preparation efforts for future natural disasters and emergencies.

Cuba Announces it will Launch Broadband Home Internet

HAVANA – Cuba announced Sunday night that it is launching broadband Internet service in two Havana neighborhoods as a pilot project aimed at bringing home access to one of the world’s least connected nations.

State telecommunications company ETECSA said it would allow Cubans in Old Havana, the colonial center that is one of the island’s main tourist attractions, to order service through fiber optic connections operated with Chinese telecom operator Huawei.

Odalys Rodríguez del Toro, ETECSA director for Havana, told state media that the government would also begin allowing cafes, bars and restaurants to begin ordering broadband service.

Del Toro offered no timeline for the pilot project or rollout of broader access and said prices would be announced in the future.

Still, any fiber-optic home connections would be an important milestone in Cuba, where broadband home service is currently legal only for diplomats and employees of foreign companies who pay hundreds of dollars a month for connections for Internet connections that are a fraction of the average speed in other countries. Some Cuban citizens have dial-up home service or restricted mobile phone connections that allow access only to state-run email.

General public access to broadband Internet began only last year, with the opening of dozens of public WiFi spots that cost $2 an hour. That is about a tenth of the average monthly salary in Cuba.

Del Toro said ETECSA would open 30 more WiFi spots in Havana alone in 2016, which by itself would double the number of access points in Cuba. She did not say how many more were planned for other cities.