The FCC on Tuesday okayed capital to speed up restoration of communications networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) that were destroyed during last year’s hurricanes. The Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking includes an immediate infusion of about $64 million in additional funding for short-term restoration efforts. The agency also seeks comment on injecting nearly $900 million in medium- and long-term aid to expand and improve broadband access across the islands.
Island-based carriers asked the FCC for more help toward the end of 2017. Tuesday’s decision means in 2018, the Commission will continue to provide, at a minimum, current levels of high-cost support to carriers in Puerto Rico and USVI. Fixed carrier Puerto Rico Telephone Company will continue to receive approximately $36 million annualized and mobile carriers (Centennial Puerto Rico Operations Corp., Suncom Wireless Puerto Rico Operating Co., Cingular Wireless, Puerto Rico Telephone Company, PR Wireless Inc., and Worldnet Telecommunications, Inc.) will continue to receive about $79.2 million annualized, according to the Commission. In the USVI, fixed carrier Viya will continue to receive roughly $16.5 million annualized and mobile carrier Choice Communications will continue to receive approximately $67,000 annualized.
Though the FCC initially anticipated offsetting advance payments against future support, it no longer thinks that’s prudent because “continuing difficulties in bringing service and power back to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have impeded and delayed restoration efforts,” says the agency in the item. Indeed, “Restoration efforts are still ongoing rather than largely complete and persistent power outages and other logistical challenges have made the continued operation of restored networks more expensive than some expected.”
The Commission’s action also converts $65.8 million advanced to carriers on the islands last year, into new money by not recovering that funding from future Universal Service support payments. The Commission seeks public input on a plan to allocate some $259 million in medium-term aid to expand 4G LTE mobile broadband deployments on the islands.
First stage capital is available to voice and broadband providers on the islands, subject to being designated an eligible telecom carrier. To participate, carriers must certify their eligibility no later than 14 days after the Order is published in the Federal Register.
Published May 30, 2018