FCC's Pai proposes $950M to broaden and harden broadband in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands

While Hurricane Dorian is front and center in the news, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Ajit Pai is proposing additional funding for broadband in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands after hurricanes blew through those islands two years ago.

In a blog post on Wednesday, 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.

The funds would be used to provide network resiliency in the broadband networks in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, which are both continuing to rebuild infrastructure after Hurricanes Mari and Irma in 2017.

After those hurricanes, the FCC provided an infusion of about $66 million from the Universal Service Fund to assist carriers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with their initial restoration efforts. The proposed new funding would also be distributed from the Universal Service Fund.

Last year, the FCC created Uniendo, a Puerto Rico Fund, and Connect the USVI Fund. For the first stage of those funds, the FCC provided about $66 million in additional funding to assist with network restoration, according to Pai.

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For the second stage, the FCC proposed a longer-term strategy for improving, expanding, and hardening broadband networks throughout the islands. 

"We will be voting on this draft order at the FCC’s monthly meeting on September 26," Pai said. "Now that most carriers have largely restored service, it is time to authorize long-term funding to ensure that everyone in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands has access to the same high-speed fixed and mobile broadband networks as other Americans. And at the same time, we must storm-harden those communications networks so they can withstand the future hurricanes that will undoubtedly come and will continue to function when Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders need them most. "

Pai said he was particularly pleased that the draft order could create incentives for the deployment of gigabit-speed fixed broadband and 5G connectivity across the islands. While Puerto Rico would no doubt appreciate 5G-connectivity, the island is still struggling to rebuild after the hurricanes.