WASHINGTON, November 7, 2017 — The Universal Service Fund dollars the Federal Communications Chairman has allocated for rebuilding Puerto Rico’s communications infrastructure has helped with rebuilding efforts so far, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said on Monday in a statement following his visit to meet with stakeholders across the hurricane-ravaged island.
“I was glad to hear that our work so far has helped the people of Puerto Rico,” Pai said.
“For example, I heard firsthand about how the $77 million in advanced universal service funding that we provided has helped to facilitate the restoration of communications networks in Puerto Rico; about how the speedy decision to allow a fixed wireless provider to access 5 GHz spectrum enabled it to quickly establish connectivity; about how our recent E-rate decision will help struggling schools keep teaching students; and about how having FCC staff on the ground since the storm has been immensely helpful to both Puerto Ricans and emergency management personnel like ESF-2 (with many lamenting the field office’s closure over one year ago).”
Pai said that the FCC will continue to “keep thinking creatively and doing proactively” in order to restore communications networks across Puerto Rico, and that more funding would be needed in the months to come.
The Chairman’s visit came nearly a week after last Tuesday’s release of an order promulgating new temporary rules to allow Hurricane-damaged schools and libraries the use of Universal Service Fund E-Rate funding to rebuild their communications infrastructure.
The order specifying these new temporary rules — which had been announced before the Commission’s October open meeting — was delayed while Commissioners considered its approval in written form.
Pai noted that the recovery effort has been hampered by a lack of a functioning power grid and other infrastructure problems, and said that overcoming those challenges “won’t be easy.”
In addition to inspecting a tower site which has been essential for ensuring communication among first responders, Pai met with Puerto Rico Telecommunications Regulatory Board President Sandra Torres López and Associate Member Alexandra Fernández Navarro, and also attended a detailed briefing on the status of communications networks hosted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the agency said.
He also met with representatives from a number of telecommunications providers, including fixed wireless providers Aeronet and Neptuno Networks, wired providers including Claro/PRTC and Liberty, and wireless phone companies including AT&T, Open Mobile, T-Mobile, and Verizon.
(Photo of Wisconsin National Guard communications team in Puerto Rico in aftermath of Hurricane Maria by U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Brian Faltinson.)