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MMTC: Action Needed on Broadband in Puerto Rico

The Minority and Media Telecommunications Council says the FCC
needs to pay more attention to the broadband needs of Puerto Rico, including
reversing an earlier decision not to create a separate high-cost fund to help
close the digital divide there.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and the other commissioners, MMTC
pointed out that the recently released report on broadband deployment found
that there was virtually no broadband service to Puerto Rico and its four
million citizens.

Given that the report concluded that broadband is "essential
to participation in our 21st Century economy and democracy," MMTC
said that the FCC "cannot continue to sit idly by and allow the digital
divide between Puerto Rico and the rest of America to grow even wider."

The group argues that past FCC's have ignored the problem, and
that that has contributed to the "sorry state" of infrastructure

MMTC says that while the broadband report shows Puerto Rico
has almost no broadband, it doesn't mention the territory once in the report
text. It also says that online broadband maps do not include data for Puerto Rico,
instead treating it like Cuba or Mexico.

Adding to its litany of what it sees as FCC slights to Puerto
Rico's communications future, MMTC points to this FCC's reversal in April
of a tentative conclusion of the previous commission
that a universal service
fund be established for "insular areas." (Puerto Rico is defined as a non-rural insular area). The FCC concluded that
current high-cost fund support for Puerto Rico had been sufficiently increased--by
54% between 1998 and 2008--that it was not necessary to create a new fund, and
that phone penetration had increased sufficiently as well. The commission did
propose targeted rule changes.

But the FCC's move dealt with phone service, and one of the
reasons it said it was ruling against the separate fund was its recommendation
in the National Broadband Plan to transition the high-cost fund from phone
to broadband.

It suggested that an upcoming rulemaking on the universal
service fund remake would be a more appropriate venue to address issues of
broadband deployment. "The Commission will release a notice of proposed
rulemaking later this year that will address the high-cost universal service
recommendations of the National Broadband Plan, it said in the order
declining to create the fund. "We encourage parties with information about
any unique cost characteristics of providing broadband service in insular
areas, such as Puerto Rico, to participate in these forthcoming proceedings and
submit any relevant data."

The commission said that in the interim, "If PRTC were
to receive additional support for voice service pursuant its proposed non-rural
insular mechanism, it likely would be more difficult to transition that support
to focus on areas unserved or underserved by broadband."

But MMTC says that was the wrong call. "This decision is
unsupportable against the clear facts concerning the state of
telecommunications and the poor economic situation in Puerto Rico," said
MMTC, and stands "in stark and irreconcilable contrast with the
Commission's decision - on the same day -
to grant such supplemental support to Wyoming."

MMTC says that the FCC can correct that decision by
reversing it on a petition currently before it. "Doing so would jumpstart
the construction of broadband infrastructure in Puerto Rico
immediately," MMTC said.