FCC to Vote on Plan to Provide $950M to Carriers for Puerto Rico, USVI Networks

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Chairman Ajit Pai Wednesday circulated a draft order to his fellow commissioners that would provide about $950 million in funding to fortify, improve, and expand broadband networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Communication networks in the U.S. territories were devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

Most carriers tell the agency that communications networks on the islands have largely been restored. 

Knowing hurricanes will continue to hit the area, now is the time to plan to improve, expand and harden the networks, an FCC official told reporters.

The Commission also believes it’s more cost-efficient to avoid needing to completely rebuild a network each time a hurricane hits the islands. “The goal is to connect everyone and create broadband networks that are better able to withstand hurricanes,” said the agency official.  

This is the second round of funding under the FCC’s Uniendo, a Puerto Rico Fund, and Connect USVI Fund. It follows $130 million in extra funding the Commission provided to restore hurricane-damaged networks in the U.S. territories since 2017. The draft order is slated to be voted on at the FCC’s September 26 meeting.

There are actually two funds with money from the FCC’s USF high-cost program, $504 million over 10 years for Puerto Rico and $186 million over 10 years for USVI. Carriers will compete for the money through a competitive bidding process.

FCC staff will determine which carriers receive the money, based on criteria such as network performance, resiliency, redundancy, speed, and the ability to meet build-out requirements. Part of eligibility is determined by the subscriber numbers a carrier had as of June 17. For example, AT&T business customers/carriers on the islands will be eligible, the official said, citing as an example 75 percent of its award could go towards 4G LTE and 25 percent towards deploying 5G.

The money will go to fixed and wireless carriers. The Commission anticipates the funds would be awarded in 2020.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

September 5, 2019

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