In response to the damage caused to the communications networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the FCC is proposing to provide up to $76.9 million in Universal Service Fund (USF) money to restore services.
The FCC unanimously voted to immediately provide carriers with up to seven months’ worth of support from the FCC’s USF, which helps lower the cost of deploying service in areas that are costly to serve.
Any funds provided to these two regions from the FCC’s action can be used to repair telecom infrastructure and restore service to customers.
Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, said in a blog post that the devastation to the communications infrastructure caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands drove him to ask the commission to take a different approach to allocating USF funds.
“The devastation wrought by Maria in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands requires us to think more creatively,” Pai said in a blog post. “So I’m asking my fellow commissioners to vote on an order that would provide carriers there up to seven months of their normal federal support in advance—right now, in a lump sum— to help them repair their networks and restore service to consumers. That would amount to a $76.9 million shot in the arm for network recovery and reconstruction. We also would give companies the flexibility they need to restore service as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
Pai added that if “if this proposal has not been approved by the time of our October meeting, it will top our agenda on Oct. 24.”
When Hurricane Maria directly hit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Sept. 20, it left the most of the region’s cell sites out of service, and nearly all consumers without either cable or wireline services. As of Tuesday this week, nearly 88% of cell sites were out of service in Puerto Rico and 67% in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The FCC’s actions are intended to enable carriers to restore essential communications services as quickly as possible. FCC staff will help coordinate network repair activities to ensure that the greatest coverage is available to the most people.