Telecommunications Progress in Puerto Rico

Telecommunications — the ability to use phone or internet for communication — was a major challenge in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. A 2021 article in the Journal of Critical Infrastructure Policy bluntly stated that “The hurricanes revealed the fragility of Puerto Rico’s telecommunications infrastructure, which failed, leaving the majority of Puerto Rican citizens without a means to communicate by phone or by Internet or to reach 911 for emergency services for weeks or months.” Efforts by the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Federal Communications Commission have made a difference.

Mobile connectivity

A new report from Ookla examines how Puerto Rico is doing in the area of mobile connectivity. According to the FCC, 95% of cell sites were knocked out by Hurricane Maria, and 36% of them were still not functioning three months later. Things have improved significantly.

Ookla compared Puerto Rico with other areas in the Caribbean, including Jamaica, Cuba, Trinidad & Tobago, and Haiti. Puerto Rico was far ahead of the others, showing a 43% improvement over the past year.

Puerto Rico’s median download speed was 46.84 Mbps. By comparison, Cuba has a median speed of 5.78 Mbps, which is 162% lower than it was a year ago. Jamaica was closest to Puerto Rico, coming in a 32.77 Mbps. Puerto Rico is just average among the jurisdictions surveyed for upload speed, however.

If you are curious about your own download speed, you can test it with the Ookla speed test, the leading testing service.

4G and 5G

Puerto Rico is also far outpacing other Caribbean locations in access to 4G and 5G technologies. 92% of the population has access to 4G. Among those who have 5G-capable devices, about 63% spend most of their time on 5G.

2G and 3G systems allow voice calls and texting, but 4G or 5G are needed for video calls or to experience rich media.  Telehealth calls, for example, are not practical without 4G or 5G.

Is this good news?

Jose Otero pointed out in 2016 that Puerto Rico won out over other parts of the Caribbean and Latin America when it came to telecommunications, but still lagged far behind the mainland United States. That is still true. The median internet speed for the continental United States is 204 Mbps. This is quadruple the median speed in Puerto Rico.

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