The FCC said today that it will vote later this month on a proposal to make $950 million available to rebuild broadband networks that were “devastated” by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. According to a press briefing by FCC officials, the plans – spearheaded by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai — call for separate funds for mobile and fixed service and for a separate Virgin Island and Puerto Rico broadband fund.
Officials said plans include shifting funding from traditional high-cost Universal Service Fund (USF) programs for the islands, which would be phased out. Additional funding also would be provided through the USF high-cost program, the officials said. They noted that the program is funded by service providers but did not specify whether the extra funding would come by reducing funding for other program recipients or increasing the contribution factor used to calculate service provider contributions.
FCC Puerto Rico Broadband Fund
The FCC proposal for Puerto Rico would allocate $510 million over 10 years for fixed broadband and $254 million over three years for mobile broadband. The U.S. Virgin Islands would receive $186 million over 10 years for fixed broadband and $4 million over three years for mobile broadband.
Funding for fixed providers in Puerto Rico would be awarded based on proposals submitted by the providers that would consider price, network performance and network resiliency and redundancy. Providers would have to deploy service supporting speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. Proposals to provide service at either of two higher speed tiers would be favored, with proposals to provide gigabit speeds having the most favored status, followed by proposals to provide 100 Mbps service.
Proposals to provide lower-latency service also would be favored, as would proposals to provide more reliable service by, for example, using buried rather than aerial fiber. In addition, proposals requesting a lower level of funding overall would have priority.
Proposals would be made to provide service throughout a municipio, of which there are 78 in Puerto Rico. Providers would be required to make service available to every home and business within a municipio.
U.S. Virgin Islands, Mobile Broadband Fund
Funding for fixed providers in the U.S. Virgin Islands would be awarded in a similar manner, but that territory would be divided into just two geographic areas – one including St. Croix and the other including St. Thomas and St. John.
Mobile broadband funding for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands would be allocated to service providers based on the number of subscribers the providers served as of June 2017. Providers would be allowed to use up to 75% of funding on LTE networks and up to 25% of funding for 5G networks supporting speeds of at least 35 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream.
The proposal outlined today appears quite similar to one that Pai made last year. The chairman may have reasoned that with the nation’s attention focused on the current Hurricane Dorian, this would be a good time to formalize the proposal for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Today’s FCC press release notes that the proposed $950 million for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is in addition to $130 million in extra funding that the commission previously provided to restore hurricane-damaged networks in those islands since 2017.