The Federal Communication Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau set up procedures for its investment of up to $691 million over the next 10 years to support the build out of advanced broadband and voice services in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The investment, which was announced on Wednesday, is being made to insure that residents of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have access to and benefit from the same high-speed broadband services that U.S. residents have on the mainland, according to the FCC.
"Every step closer to providing this funding is a step in the right direction,” said Kris Monteith, chief of the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau, in a statement. “Laying out this clear, manageable, and predictable process will ensure we get the best impact possible from this investment of funds. Bridging the digital divide is the agency’s top priority under Chairman Ajit Pai and we’ve put a special emphasis on helping connect Americans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Today is a big day in that effort.”
Wednesday's announcement marked the second stage in the agency’s rollout of support to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The second stage allocates more than $500 million over 10 years in fixed broadband support through the Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund. It also allocates more than $180 million over 10 years for fixed broadband support through the Connect USVI Fund.
The second funding stage will employ a competitive process to award support for fixed voice and broadband services based on the weighting of price and network performance, including speed, latency and usage allowance.
The FCC will release an application form, instructions and announce the application deadline "soon," following approval by the Office of Management and Budget. The FCC also has allocated up to $259 million in support for mobile service, including 5G, in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands over a three-year period.
The FCC also posted a public notice that lays out the procedures and terms of the second stage.
In September, FCC Chair Ajit Pai proposed additional funding for broadband in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after hurricanes blew through those islands three years ago. Pai outlined a draft order to direct $950 million in funding from government-administered broadband subsidies to improve, expand, and harden broadband networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Pai said the funds would be used to provide network resiliency in the broadband networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S Virgin Islands, which are both continuing to rebuild infrastructure after Hurricanes Mari and Irma in 2017.
In 2018, the FCC created Uniendo, a Puerto Rico Fund, and the Connect USVI Fund. For the first stage of those funds, the FCC provided about $66 million in additional funding to assist with network restoration.
The second stage that was announced on Wednesday is a longer-term strategy for improving, expanding and hardening broadband networks throughout the islands.