¡Su opinión cuenta! Puerto Rico Releases Initial Draft of Digital Equity Plan

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, October 6, 2023

Weekly Digest

¡Su opinión cuenta! Puerto Rico Releases Initial Draft of Digital Equity Plan

 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of October 2-6, 2023

Kevin Taglang

All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico are currently working on digital equity plans. As they release draft plans seeking public feedback, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is sharing summaries focused on how states define their digital divides and their vision for reaching digital equity.

Puerto Rico’s mountainous geography and experience with natural disasters play a role in the digital divide that leaves too many without the ability to access broadband internet. Widespread damage to the island’s existing telecommunications infrastructure as a result of recent natural disasters—such as Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Hurricane Fiona, the 2020 earthquakes, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic—highlighted the importance of reliable and affordable broadband access, particularly for remote work, online learning, telehealth services, and connecting with the government. These events demonstrated the urgent need for a comprehensive and resilient broadband network in Puerto Rico and the social supports required for residents to access it.

The Puerto Rico Broadband Program (PRBP), located within the Puerto Rico Office of Management & Budget, was created in response to these needs, with a focus on establishing a robust, sustainable, and equitably distributed broadband infrastructure that can withstand future natural disasters and support the island’s economic and human capital development. PRBP is a collaborative effort between federal and local government agencies, private sector partners, and community organizations, working together to bring high-speed internet access to all Puerto Ricans.

PRBP and its partners are working together to advance the following vision for digital equity:

Ensure all Puerto Ricans, regardless of their background or location, have access to the resources and opportunities necessary to thrive in the digital
world and fully participate in modern society.

PRBP aims for universal, quality internet connections that are accessible to all residents and to ensure that everyone has the skills needed to use the internet effectively and safely.

Through closing the digital divide, Puerto Rico will be resilient and globally competitive in workforce and economic development, education, healthcare services, civic and social engagement, delivery of other essential services, and 21st-century digital engagement.

The PRBP is working to advance its vision through a focus on four pillars:

  1. Connectivity to resilient infrastructure
  2. Quality and speed for demanding use
  3. Accessibility at an affordable price
  4. Knowledge of available technology and digital tools

Pillars 3 and 4 are the special focus of Puerto Rico’s digital equity initiative.

Barriers to Digital Equity in Puerto Rico

The historic, decades-long neglect of Puerto Rico by the mainland United States has left the entire island on the wrong side of the digital divide—a divide the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act clearly intends to help close. Opportunities for affordable internet, devices, and digital skills training are sorely needed. The Digital Equity Act is an investment in the people of Puerto Rico and is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to achieve digital equity across the island.

Broadband Adoption

Puerto Rico is behind the rest of the United States in accessibility to (and adoption of) broadband internet and internet-enabled devices at an affordable price. Nearly 30 percent of Puerto Ricans report no home access to the internet, significantly higher than the U.S. average rate of no internet access (approximately 10 percent).

Compounding these issues is the reality of persistent poverty, low levels of education, and 99 percent of Puerto Rico’s residents falling under the designation “covered population.”

Broadband adoption rates across Puerto Rico are not homogenously distributed, but rather they roughly follow the distribution of income across the island. Much of San Juan and the surrounding metro area have significantly higher rates of broadband adoption than the rest of the island. In contrast, municipalities in the central region of Puerto Rico have as low as an 18 percent home internet adoption rate, which is one of the lowest rates of counties and county-equivalents in the entire United States. However, while the disparity between these two regions is especially stark, it’s worth noting that the entire island falls significantly below the country’s home broadband subscription rate of 64 percent.

Broadband Affordability

Broadband affordability is a primary focus for achieving digital equity in Puerto Rico. Almost 99 percent of the population is considered low wealth; the Puerto Rican median household income ($21,967) is less than one-third of the median United States household income ($69,021). In addition, compared to the rest of the United States, Puerto Ricans have lower educational attainment.

Devices and Digital Skills

While Puerto Ricans overall have fewer smartphones than the national average, three times more Puerto Ricans only use smartphones as a device to access the internet.

Across the board, device adoption in Puerto Rico falls significantly behind the national average:

  1. Twenty-five percent of Puerto Ricans do not have a computing device, compared to the U.S. average of just under seven percent. This is the lowest rate of computing device adoption in the United States by at least five percentage points.
  2. Many more residents in Puerto Rico only have a smartphone. Nearly one-quarter of Puerto Ricans use a smartphone with no other type of computing device, compared to the U.S. average of only eight percent.
  3. Just under half of Puerto Ricans use a desktop or laptop, compared to the U.S. average of three-quarters. This may be a result of income and poverty rates on the island.

A device adoption strategy will need to meet residents where they are—both geographically and by digital device usage skillset.

"People have virtually no knowledge whatsoever of how to use a computer, how to use a tablet, how to navigate to job search."—Listening Session Participant

Digital skills of residents are hard to quantify and there is no definitive data on who has digital skills and who doesn’t. However, low educational attainment, poverty, and other socio-economic factors are indicative of a lack of digital skills.

Covered Populations In Puerto Rico

Nearly 99 percent of Puerto Rico's residents identify as Hispanic. While 95 percent of Puerto Ricans speak Spanish at home, only 25 percent speak English “very well.” Spanish speakers are the majority, not the minority.

Individuals with Disabilities

The baseline of Puerto Rican individuals with disabilities is almost twice that of the United States, with the highest rates of individuals with disabilities around Guánica and Caguas. Individuals with disabilities share many of the same barriers that the rest of Puerto Ricans experience. In addition, individuals with disabilities have special considerations for accessing the internet, such as mobility, seeing, hearing, and human interface (e.g., use of keyboard, mouse, joystick, or voice-activated) that require adaptive accessories.

Aging Persons

Puerto Rico’s percentage of aging population exceeds that of the United States by 135 percent. While Mayaguez has the highest concentration of aging individuals, about 90 percent of the municipalities have an aged population that exceeds that of the United States. The barriers to participation in the digital world that are unique to the aging population include their fears of internet privacy and cybersecurity, lack of education, fixed income on Social Security, and potentially their isolation, which precludes their family members from helping them.

English as a Second Language

Puerto Rico is distinct in that Spanish is the dominant language compared to states on the mainland. Ninety-five percent of island residents speak Spanish. However, for Spanish-speaking residents who don’t speak English well, many everyday functions are not limited because business and personal life on the island predominantly operate in Spanish. Nevertheless, English is a major language of the Internet, especially in the United States, and lack of English proficiency can lead to a barrier to English-language resources and information. To ensure equal opportunity to digital equity resources, all digital equity-related communication materials—best practices from partners off-island and federal resources—should be Spanish-first and culturally relevant.


Veterans living in Puerto Rico make up 2.2 percent of the population. The Puerto Rican veteran population is better educated and has a higher income of $33,000 compared to the Puerto Rican average of $22,000. Veterans use VA healthcare at a much higher rate than in the United States. However, their service-connected disability rating exceeds the United States by about 150 percent. Approximately 55 percent of Puerto Rican veterans are 65+ (as compared to the average of approximately 43 percent aged 65+). Veterans experience many of the same barriers as other non-veterans in the disability or aging covered populations.

Incarcerated Individuals

As of late 2021, there were 7,176 imprisoned people in Puerto Rico. Incarcerated individuals have little to no access to the internet, and currently there are a limited number of programs designed specifically for residents leaving the prison system in Puerto Rico. Reintegration plans into the free community begin when an individual has less than six months left of their sentence. Providing incarcerated individuals with digital skills, workforce skills, and retraining is a goal of the PRBP and will support their successful re-entry into society.

Racial and Ethnic Minorities

Distinctly, almost all (98.7%) of Puerto Ricans identify as Hispanic; in no other part of the United States does a majority of the population identify as Hispanic. Thus, labeling Hispanic residents as minorities may make sense in the mainland United States, but not in Puerto Rico. It is this incongruity, in conjunction with speaking Spanish that creates such high rates of covered populations on the island.

People Living in Rural Areas

There are three non-rural areas in Puerto Rico: the San Juan metro, as well as the Ponce and Mayagüez regions. The remainder of the island qualifies as rural. Rural areas in Puerto Rico are also lower income. These rural residents have limited internet availability and when it is available, it is often at a higher cost. When internet isn’t available at home, rural residents experience transportation challenges. Those without access to a car or a bus are met with even greater barriers to accessing digital skills training and technical support or connecting with a digital navigator. This lack of convenience and proximity further prevents equitable access.

Goals, Strategies and Key Performance Indicators

To drive progress toward digital equity, PRBP is working to achieve the following goals:

  1. Broadband will be accessible at affordable prices.
  2. Internet-enabled devices will be accessible and affordable for all.
  3. Online public resources will be inclusive and accessible to all Puerto Ricans, regardless of ability.
  4. Puerto Rico will support digital literacy and digital skills for all residents.
  5. All Puerto Ricans will be aware of the importance of online security and privacy.

Goal 1: Affordable Internet Access

Strategy: Launch an affordability initiative in partnership with government agencies, key stakeholders, broadband internet access service providers (ISPs) and other private entities, philanthropy, and non-profit organizations that include Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) Outreach and other benefit programs.

Key Performance Indicators

Increase enrollment in ACP.

Baseline: 600,097 Puerto Rican households are enrolled in the ACP.
Near-term: Increase ACP enrollment by 10 percent per year for three years.
Long-term: All eligible Puerto Ricans are enrolled in ACP.

All Puerto Ricans can access free internet at a location in their region.

Long-term: All Puerto Ricans can access free internet at a regional location by 2026.

Low-income families participate in a Puerto Rico Broadband Program subsidy program for low-cost internet and devices.

Near-term: Increase access to affordable broadband internet plans for 50 percent of low-income households in Puerto Rico within the next two years.
Long-term: All low-income households have access to affordable broadband internet plans.

Goal 2: Affordable Devices

Strategy: Launch an affordable device initiative for eligible Puerto Ricans.

Key Performance Indicators

Increase the number of Puerto Ricans who use the ACP’s device discount benefit.

Near-term: Increase the baseline by 10 percent.
Long-term: All eligible Puerto Ricans are enrolled in the ACP’s device discount program.

Increase the number of Puerto Ricans who own internet-enabled devices.

Baseline: According to the U.S. Census, 55 percent of Puerto Rican households do not have a desktop computer or a laptop and 24 percent do not own a computing device of any type. The percentage of covered populations with adaptive computing needs to be established upon further study.

Near-term: Increase device ownership by 8 percent per year for 3 years.
Long-term: By 2026, Puerto Rico will have closed by half the gap in households without a desktop or laptop computer.
Long-term: By 2026, affordable adaptive accessories will be available for covered populations and residents with special needs.

All Puerto Ricans can access technical support appropriate to the user and device maintenance and repair.

Long-term: All Puerto Ricans can access technical support appropriate to the user and device maintenance and repair through a location in their region, their ISP, or other device distribution and support channel.

Goal 3: Inclusive and Accessible Public Resources

Strategy: Partner with government agencies to ensure compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidance (WCAG).

Key Performance Indicators

All government websites will be inclusive and accessible.

Near-term: Make 80 percent of government services available online within the next two years.

Long-term: All government websites will be inclusive and accessible before 2025.

Support and resources will be available to navigate government websites

Near-term: Train digital navigator personnel to assist in providing training and support for residents using government services online.

Long-term: All Puerto Ricans have access to trained digital navigators in their area.

Goal 4: Digital Skills & Literacy

Strategy: Launch a digital skills and literacy initiative that builds on existing best practices, is culturally relevant in its programming and materials, and includes applications of digital use to outcomes in education, healthcare, and economic development.

Key Performance Indicators

Digital skills and literacy resources will be available to all Puerto Ricans.

Baseline: PRBP does not yet offer island-wide digital literacy resources

Near-term: In collaboration with community organizations, libraries, schools, and other relevant groups, develop online tutorials and training materials and provide digital literacy training to 75 percent of residents in Puerto Rico within the next five years

Long-term: All residents have access to digital skills and literacy resources and training

All Puerto Ricans can access digital skills for workforce development.

Near-term: In collaboration with interested organizations, including Puerto Rican Small and Medium Enterprises, develop and provide digital skills training to 50 percent of residents in Puerto Rico who are seeking employment within the next three years

Long-term: All Puerto Ricans can access digital skills and literacy resources at a regional location by 2026

Increase the number of digital navigators.

Near-term: Train and certify enough digital navigators to appropriately serve each region of the island

Long-term: All Puerto Ricans have the opportunity to work with trained digital navigators

Goal 5: Online Security & Privacy

Strategy: Create educational resources about online scams, phishing and other threats and ensure that each region of the Island can distribute resources and educate community members.

Key Performance Indicators

PRBP has public resources about online security and privacy in Spanish and English.

Near-term: PRBP gathers best practice resources from existing online security and privacy programs

Long-term: PRBP has a repository of high-quality online security and privacy resources that are distributed to all Puerto Ricans

All Puerto Ricans are aware of the importance of online security and privacy.

In collaboration with community organizations, libraries, schools, and other relevant groups, provide online security and privacy training to 75 percent of residents in Puerto Rico within the next five years.

Long-term: All Puerto Ricans are aware of the importance of key online security and privacy practices.

The Puerto Rico Broadband Program Wants Your Feedback

The Government of Puerto Rico has a historic and unique opportunity to close the digital divide for all Puerto Ricans as concurrent efforts to expand broadband infrastructure and broadband adoption proceed. While limited nongovernmental digital equity assets and persistent poverty in all 78 municipalities make addressing Puerto Rico’s digital equity needs difficult, the $1.2 billion infusion into the island’s digital ecosystem means the moment is ripe to make meaningful change. This is the time for Puerto Rico to build resilient, community-driven initiatives; integrate its agencies, partners, and stakeholders; and deliver tailored digital equity services to all Puerto Rican residents. With increasing data collection capacity and federal funds to track progress, PRBP will be better able to track assets, needs and outcomes for covered populations.

The Puerto Rico Broadband Program is seeking feedback on its initial draft of the island's digital equity plan. Public comments will be used to update the plan. All comments received will be published (only the first initial and last name will be published, followed by the municipality). The comment period is open for thirty (30) days, ending October 15, 2023.

More in this series:

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

Oct 10-12––AnchorNets 2023 (Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition)

Oct 11—Getting BEAD Right, Now: An Overview of FBA and NTCA’s Playbook 3.0 on BEAD Implementation (Fiber Broadband Association)

Oct 11—The Impacts of Digital Skills Training on Hispanics (Patterson Foundation)

Oct 12-13––Digital Inclusion Research Forum (Federal Reserve Banks of Dallas, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Kansas City)

Oct 12-13––FCC Tribal Workshop at Indian Island, Maine (FCC)

Oct 12––Defining BEAD Project Areas—Public Meeting (Washington State Broadband Office)

Oct 16––Nuts, Bolts, and Cables: Opportunities in Tribal Broadband (Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis)

Oct 19––2nd Annual Spectrum Summit (Joint Center for Politics and Economic Studies)

Oct 19––2023 Future of Black Communities Summit (Joint Center for Politics and Economic Studies)

Oct 19––October 2023 Open Federal Communications Commission Meeting

Oct 24––41st Annual Everett C. Parker Lecture & Awards Breakfast (United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry)

Oct 24––The A.I. Divide: What is the Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Digital Equity? (Michelson 20MM)

Oct 26––Oregon Connections: Navigating the Funding Flood. (Oregon Connections)

Oct 29––The CyberShare Summit (NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association)

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

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