Puerto Rican Officials Ask FCC For Broadband Help

The governor of Puerto Rico and other officials
there have asked the FCC to reverse a decision they say will leave the
territory without sufficient access to broadband for too long.

While Governor Luis Fortuno said he understood the
FCC had said it preferred dealing with the issue as part of general overall
Universal Service Fund reform, he said that would be a multi-year process and
that Puerto Rico has already waited too long to get comparable service to the

He asked that the FCC reconsider the request of
the Puerto Rico Telephone Company (PRTC) for a separate fund and its promise to
use it for broadband. He also wants the FCC to create a Puerto Rico broadband
pilot program and consider designating staff to deal specifically with Puerto
Rico broadband issues.

Also asking the FCC to reconsider, according to
letters supplied by the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council (MMTC),
were its congressional representative and the president of its telecommunications
regulatory board.

In April, the commission decided not to establish
a separate universal service fund 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.

But the FCC's decision dealt with a fund for phone
service--specifically the PRTC request--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."

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.