Chairman Pai’s Response to Reps. Grijalva, Velazuez, and Gonzalez-Colon Re: Communications Restoration Efforts in Puerto Rico Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria
On May 7, 2019, Reps Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), and Jennifer González-Colón (D-PR) wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai regarding communications restoration efforts in Puerto Rico following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. "It is no secret that the cost of deploying fiber or other forms of wireline and wireless broadband access to our nation's rural and remote communities is expensive, and we have an obligation to bridge the digital divide for all communities, regardless of where they may be located. The same should be said for our nation's territories like the US Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico," their letter began. They wrote, "While most federal grants are technology neutral, to be eligible for a number of broadband deployment grants a provider needs to be a common carrier, which is not always feasible in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, even for those with local facilities. The Puerto Rico Telecommunications Regulatory Board is not authorizing certifications of any locally-based satellite providers as an eligible telecommunications carrier, therefore creating a de-facto prohibition on expanding the use of satellite technology." They concluded in their letter, "We therefore urge the Commission to work with the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to ensure that carriers are either allowed to subcontract the services of satellite providers with local facilities as a redundant technology or require that schools in these remote areas where terrestrial and wireless coverage is simply not practical are serviced by other carrier(s)."
On Dec 31, 2019, Chairman Pai responded by describing the FCC's efforts to ensure the recovery and strengthening of Puerto Rico's networks. He described different funding available, saying "These funds are available on a technology neutral basis, including to satellite operators, that are willing to meet the statutory requirement that they offer voice service as an eligible telecommunications carrier. And though federal law gives state commissions, like the Puerto Rico Telecommunications Regulatory Board, the authority to designate eligible telecommunications carriers, Congress reserved authority for the Commission to do so when state commissions cannot—an authority that the Commission has exercised repeatedly when needed."
Chairman Response Regarding Hurricane Restoration Efforts Lawmaker Letter to Chairman Pai