AT&T Gets Temporary Access to Spectrum in Puerto Rico, FirstNet Buildout Continues
Friday, March 27, 2020 | Comments

The FCC granted special temporary authority (STA) to AT&T to use additional spectrum to serve Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) during the coronavirus pandemic. The commission granted AT&T access to the Advanced Wireless Service (AWS)-4 spectrum, licensed to Dish, for 60 days to expand its network capacity to meet expected increases in network traffic as a result of more Americans on the islands working from home, social distancing and sheltering in place.

In October, AT&T announced plans to sell its wireless and wireline operations in Puerto Rico and USVI to Liberty Latin America, while retaining its First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) responsibilities, but the deal has not closed yet. Under the original terms, AT&T planned to receive $1.95 billion in cash at close.

The transaction includes network assets, including spectrum; real estate and leases; customers, including 1.1 million wireless subscribers; and contracts. AT&T will retain its dedicated FirstNet network core and service capabilities.

An AT&T spokesperson said that public safety in Puerto Rico and USVI will continue to get band 14 throughout the network transition and after. Even after the transaction is completed, all FirstNet traffic will continue to flow through the FirstNet dedicated and secure network core that provides first responders with specialized capabilities such as priority and pre-emption.

Based on the collaboration with AT&T, Liberty will help build additional Long Term Evolution (LTE) coverage across rural communities, adding band 14 spectrum and AT&T commercial LTE spectrum bands to cellular sites in the area.

“It is our mission and civic duty to keep our customers and communities connected,” AT&T said in response to questions. “It’s even more critical during a public health crisis, especially for healthcare providers, first responders and others delivering vital services. Our network is currently performing well and has been resilient as traffic has increased. However, we expect to see continued traffic growth, so we appreciate Dish and the FCC making additional spectrum available so we can continue to provide reliable communication services during this critical time for the nation. We thank the FCC for their swift action in this matter.”

The FCC has granted STAs to a number of carriers around the country since the start of the national emergency.

“Staying connected while staying apart is the reality right now across America during this pandemic, and that is no less true for those living in Puerto Rico and U.S Virgin Islands,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “We have put a special emphasis on helping those on the islands stay connected following the terrible storms that hit them in recent years. And we continue that work today in a new kind of emergency. I thank Dish for consenting to this use of its spectrum and to the U.S. Department of Justice for its cooperation. I’m grateful to AT&T for requesting this STA, and I’m pleased we can grant it.”

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