PrepaNet could be key to reducing electric bill, consumer reps say
SAN JUAN – The consumer representatives on the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) governing board, Luis Santini Gaudier and Carlos Gallisá, expressed Friday their opposition to a bill that regulates the participation of Prepa Networks in the communications market through the use of optical fiber, which was approved by the House this week.
They explained that, at a time when Prepa requires additional revenue to pay its $ 8.6 billion debt and lower consumers’ bills, the Legislature proposes limiting PrepaNet’s participation, which could result in better internet service for a lower price.
“Right now, PrepaNet has 3% of the market, a market that is $3 billion or more. The government spends $80 million on internet from Liberty and Claro, and other companies. In order to keep rates low, [energy] billing down, PrepaNet could give millions of dollars from its operations [to Prepa],” Gallisá said at a press conference held in an Hato Rey restaurant.
With 3% of the fiber optic communications market, PrepaNet, a Prepa subsidiary, currently pays $5 million to the public corporation in dividends.
“We are all looking to save on energy, because we have to look for external sources that supply Prepa revenues, whatever they are, and PrepaNet is one, so that with that revenue from external sources Prepa can maintain its prices or lower them,” Santini Gaudier explained.
He added that this not only happens with the communications market, but also with renewable energy. “If Prepa dedicated itself, instead of developing new powerplants, to develop renewable energy facilities for the people of Puerto Rico, the cost decreases, because after the investment of these costs in renewable energy is taken out, the cost will be lower and the kilowatt-hour will be less,” he said.
In the opinion of the governing board members, House Bill 27—which proposes the Fair Competition in Telecommunication, Information and Pay Television Services Act—allows money that could go to the government to remain in the hands of private entities.
“On top of that, they are preventing the cost of internet for citizens to go down,” added Gallisá, who considers PrepaNet to be “one of the most important assets that not only Prepa, but the country has.”
However, the author of the measure, House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez, claims that what he seeks is to benefit and protect the private sector from the government.
“What this bill seeks is to allow the private sector to remain solid in Puerto Ricoñ; what it seeks is that a monopoly isn’t created, as was intended through PrepaNet when the Puerto Rico Telephone Co. acquired all of AT&T’s assets, which made telephone services in Puerto Rico more expensive,” Méndez said.
Méndez’s bill is similar—if not the same—to one presented by Sen. Ramón Luis Nieves in May 2015. On that occasion, the Legislature favored the measure, which was then vetoed by then-Gov. Alejandro García Padilla in Aug. 1, 2016.
On the other hand, earlier this year, the Energy Commission warned Prepa of the danger of allowing its subsidiaries, such as PrepaNet, to grow because they could affect the public corporation finances as they are correlated.