Pai Introduces Plan to Provide $950 Million to Puerto Rico, USVI for Hardening Networks
Friday, September 06, 2019 | Comments

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai introduced a plan to provide $950 million in funding to carriers to assist the deployment of “high-speed, storm-hardened” networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).

If approved, the plan would provide up to $691.2 million over a 10-year term for fixed voice and broadband service in both areas, with $504.7 million earmarked for Puerto Rico and $186.5 million set aside for the USVI. The plan would also provide $258.8 million over three years for mobile voice and broadband in the two territories, with $254.4 million allocated for Puerto Rico and $4.4 million for the USVI.

For the fixed service funding, providers would have to submit proposals that seek to serve every home and business in the covered area, FCC officials said during a conference call. In Puerto Rico, the funding will be awarded separately for each of 78 municipios, while there will be awards for two geographic areas — one for St. Croix and one for St. Thomas and St. George — for the USVI. Fixed service applicants will be scored on price per location served; network performance, measured by speed and latency; and network resilience and redundancy.

For the mobile services funding, providers can receive a percentage of the funding equal to their share of subscribers in each territory prior to the hurricanes that hit the area in 2017, the FCC officials said.

Mobile providers will be able to use 75% of their funding for hardening, expanding and completing restoration to pre-hurricane coverage of Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks, and up to 25% of the funding on deploying 5G network technology. According to the plan, the LTE networks must offer speeds of at least 10/1 Megabits per second (Mbps), and the 5G networks must offer speeds of at least 35/3 Mbps.

Recipients of both programs will be required to maintain and implement a disaster preparation and response plan and report to the FCC’s disaster information reporting system (DIRS) during a hurricane or other disaster.

The FCC officials said that proposals for the program likely won’t be due until sometime in 2020, with funding also being released next year.

The newly announced plan follows $130 million in funding that the FCC provided to carriers in 2017 following Hurricanes Maria and Irma to help restore communications services in that area. Because that money was intended to help restore networks, the new money is not intended to go to network restoration but instead should be used to harden and prepare networks for the future, the report and order said. That initial funding was distributed through the Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund and the Connect USVI Fund.

“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 in 2017,” Pai said in a statement. “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 two of the funds,” Pai continued. “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.”

Pai circulated the plan to the other FCC commissioners, and the commission will consider the report and order at its Sept. 26 meeting, according to a tentative agenda.

Find the full draft report and order here.

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