Marashlian & Donahue, PLLC, through its affiliation with Puerto Rico-based telecom attorney, Walter Arroyo, is available to companies seeking to enter the Puerto Rican market in order to help restore, rebuild and enhance the telecommunications networks on the island. Mr. Arroyo is a well-connected and highly respected veteran attorney who provides “on the ground” support before the FCC, Puerto Rico Telecommunications Regulatory Board, and Puerto Rico’s Department of State. Do not hesitate to contact Mr. Arroyo or the firm for further information on his practice, generally, or how he can support your company’s objectives vis-a-vis the FCC’s $900 million dollar Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund.
On May 29, 2018, the FCC approved additional funding to restore Communications Networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands effective immediately, but seeks comment on a long-term funding plan of approximately $900 million in efforts to expand and improve broadband access on the islands.
Restoring the communications networks in these areas is critical to recovery. The Notice of Propose Rule Making (NPRM) lays a framework to not only repair the current problems in communications networks, but also improve them for future use and evolving technology.
Addressing Communications Needs
To achieve these goals, the FCC created the Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund and the Connect USVI Fund. Through the Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund, the FCC hopes to give funding of up to $750 million to carriers in Puerto Rico, with $51.2 million for restoration efforts in 2018, and proposes that approximate $444.5 million of the remainder be made available over a 10-year period specifically for fixed voice and broadband. The NPRM additionally proposes that approximately $254 million be made available over a 3-year term for 4G LTE mobile voice and broadband services.
Similarly, through the Connect USVI fund, the FCC will provide $204 million, with an immediate contribution of $13 million for restoration purposes in 2018. They additionally propose that about $186.5 million be made available over a 10-year period for fixed broadband, and $4.4 million be available over a 3-year period for 4G LTE mobile voice and broadband.
Stages of the NPRM and Comments Requested
The NPRM proposes funding be organized in two stages, with Stage 1 focusing on immediate restoration efforts, and stage 2 focusing on long-term rebuilding and improvements. Finding that seeking comment on Stage 1 would adversely affect important restoration efforts, the NPRM only seeks comment on Stage 2.
Currently, the Universal Service Fund (USF) directs approximately $36 million each year to fixed services in Puerto Rico and $16 Million to fixed services in the U.S. Virgin Islands, with an additional $79.2 Million and $67,000 respectively directed to mobile services. The NPRM proposes large increases to the allocations for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and in the interest of a successful long-term plan, the FCC has requested comments on a wide variety of issues under the umbrella of rebuilding, restoring, and improving communications networks on the islands.
Specifically, the FCC seeks comment on the following issues, including but not limited to:
- Allocation of funds to ensure sufficient support for long-term rebuilding cost-effectively
- How to incorporate unclaimed restoration funding into the long-term plan
- Detailed comments on particulars of the plan for each type of service
- General guidance on how to ensure service is rebuilt quickly and efficiently while also improving networks that are susceptible to destruction from future natural disasters
- Comment on FCC standpoint that changed circumstances may require revisiting funding
- Information on funding allocation and if the proposed amounts are sufficient to reach the goals of the NPRM
- Guidance on possible participants in implementing rebuilding and expansion efforts
- Geographic regions in need of more or less support through implementation of the NPRM
- Review of Proposal submission processes and timelines
- Comments on Performance review and milestone tracking
- Guidance on any alternatives to the proposes processes or implementations
While there is no play to offset advance payments, the FCC has determined that the public interest far outweighs the cost of increasing the funding. Comments concerning the information at issue in the NPRM will be due 21 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register, with reply comments due 35 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register.