The FCC on Tuesday announced the establishment of the Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund and the Connect USVI Fund in an effort to help “rebuild, improve, and expand voice and broadband networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.” These funds are part of the FCC’s ongoing efforts to rebuild communications networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following two devastating hurricanes last year. In Puerto Rico alone, the government estimates that both Hurricanes Maria and Irma caused upwards of approximately $1.5 billion in damages to communications networks on the island.
In its proposal, the FCC says that it expects that “this support will provide meaningful relief to carriers in the storm-ravaged territories in a targeted and cost-effective manner.”
The Order establishes additional funding to “accelerate the restoration of communications networks” through:
- New and immediate relief funding of $51.2 million for Puerto Rico and $13 million for the U.S. Virgin Islands to restore voice and broadband service;
- Puerto Rico getting $699 million in additional funding over the course of a 10-year period for rebuilding, improving, and expanding voice and broadband networks in the long term;
The NPRM seeks comment on the following proposals to expand and improve broadband access:
- $191 million in funding to the U.S. Virgin Islands over a 10-year period for rebuilding, improving, and expanding voice and broadband networks in the long term ;
- Fixed broadband funding of $444.5 million and $254 million over three years for 4G LTE mobile broadband in Puerto Rico;
- Fixed broadband funding of $186.5 million and $4.4 million over three years for 4G LTE mobile broadband in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The FCC seeks specific comments on the appropriate allocation of these funds, whether this budget is appropriate, whether additional support beyond current levels will be necessary, how to ensure that service is rebuilt efficiently, whether areas that didn’t have coverage before the storm should be given it now, and how to balance competing objectives to rebuilding Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The FCC proposes that these measures will be rolled out in a two-stage process based on short (Stage 1) and long-term (Stage 2) funding requests.
To participate in Stage 1, facilities-based providers will need to submit a certification stating how many subscribers (voice or broadband Internet access service members) they served as of June 30, 2017 before Hurricanes Maria and Irma hit. Those wishing to participate and receive funding will need to provide certification and accompanying evidence through the Commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System. The FCC proposes that participants must be designated as an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier. Stage 1 will also allocate 60 percent of funding to fixed network operators and 40 percent of the funding to mobile network operators. Providers must certify their eligibility to participate by no later than 14 days after publication of the order in the Federal Register.
To participate in Stage 2, the FCC proposes that providers would receive this funding if they had an existing fixed network and provided broadband service to these islands as of June 2017 according to FCC Form 477 data. The FCC is seeking comment on whether participation should be limited to only providers that served areas before the hurricanes.
The Wireline Competition Bureau and the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau will be responsible for distributing these funds to providers based on its number of subscribers.
Comments on these issues in addition to other general issues set forth in the Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will be due 21 days after publication in the Federal Register with reply comments due 35 days after publication in the Federal Register.