FCC's Pai Proposes Directing $950M for PR, VI Broadband Resiliency

FCC chair Ajit Pai has circulated a draft order directing $950 million in funding from government-administered broadband subsidies to improve, expand and harden broadband networks in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as those continue to suffer from the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria two years ago. 

Following a trip to the hurricane-ravaged areas in 2017, Pai told Multichannel Newsin an exclusive interview that he anticipated trying to use USF money to help rebuild communications networks.

All providers getting support, fixed and mobile, will have to have a disaster preparation and response plan, and will be required to report to the FCC on the status of those networks in emergencies.  

Related: FCC's Pai Says More Funds Needed for Puerto Rico 

The money will be disbursed via a competitive process, including network resiliency as a key factor for consideration. Any carrier providing fixed service as of June 2018 will be eligible to participate.  

The money is coming from the Universal Service Fund's high-cost program. 

It would be the second tranche of funding as part of the FCC's Uniendo, a Puerto Rico Fund and Connect USVI Funds and is on top of the $130 million extra funding the FCC has provided for hurricane-damaged networks since 2017. The money is coming out of the "frozen support" PR and VI already get from the high-cost fund, plus some more to make sure the program is successful, said an FCC official on background. That extra will also come from the high-cost fund. 

There will be buildout requirements for the networks, which will need to provide service of at least 25 mbps/3 mbps. 

The order is teed up for consideration at the FCC's Sept. 26 monthly meeting. 

"Significant work has been done to restore connectivity," the chairman said. "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." 

Some of the funds could be spent on mobile 5G. 

The chairman said that the funding "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. 

Fixed broadband bidding will be single round, scored by objective criteria, like resiliency. The money is expected to be handed out beginning sometime 2020. 

Mobile carriers will get money on a percentage basis. A carrier with 45% of subs in Puerto Rico, for example, would get 45% of the mobile money for Puerto Rico.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.