On September 26, 2019, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on funding of up to $950 million for internet connectivity in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Chairman Ajit Pai created a draft order outlining the plan. At the FCC blog, he wrote that the FCC has already invested more than $130 million in repairs to the territories’ communications systems. Those funds allowed carriers to fix problems caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“For Stage 2,” said Pai, “we proposed a longer-term strategy for improving, expanding, and hardening broadband networks throughout the islands.”
The order will create a bidding process for companies prepared to offer internet services in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In order to be eligible, providers must be able to produce minimum speeds of 25/3 Mbps. That means that a system must be able to download data at 25megabytes per second, and upload data at 3 megabytes per second.
The FCC has used this speed to define “broadband” since 2015. This speed supports video calls and allows users to stream video while also checking email or searching for information online.
“My goal is simple,” said Pai. “I want everyone in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to be connected with digital opportunity.”
The FCC hopes to bring broadband service to everyone in Puerto Rico. Currently, according to Broadband Now, 1.4 million Puerto Ricans have no access.
As of 2017, just 61% of Puerto Rico had broadband coverage, and more than half of residents were officially designated “underserved.” While 84.7% of residents have internet service on mobile devices, only 34.&% have access to fixed wireless service.
Commercial locations often rely on multiple wireless carriers and generators to make sure they have internet access throughout the day. However, 784,000 Puerto Ricans have access to only one provider — and 1.3 million more have no wired access at all.
Hardening internet service makes it more secure and more robust, less likely to be knocked out by storms.
Engadget suggested that these updates might not be a cause for celebration for Puerto Rico. “A 5G connection doesn’t matter much ,” they wrote, “if you’re still living under a tarp and can’t charge your phone.”
However, improvements in Puerto Rico’s communications and connectivity could encourage business investment and give Puerto Rican more economic flexibility. Stronger, safer internet service could also make a difference in future disaster situations.