The U.S. Department of the Treasury has announced an investment of $158 million in initiatives to bring broadband internet connectivity to more residents of Puerto Rico.
At present, about 68% of Puerto Ricans have access to broadband, leaving 61,871 homes and small businesses without that access. Average download speed is 72.8 Mbps, second only to the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean. The average speed in the U.S. as a whole is 256.03 Mbps. The number of megabytes per second (Mbps) is important for using multiple devices in one space, uploading or downloading files, and maintaining a good internet connection. 72.8 Mbps is enough to watch a movie online or to play video game, to use email or to do some light surfing of the Internet. But it is slow enough to limit opportunities.
For example, it would be difficult for a child to do homework and a teen to play a game while parents watch a movie. It would also be difficult to keep an office working without lagging service.
It is also necessary to bear in mind that this is the average; urban households have better access and rural areas may have little or no connectivity. This is the situation that creates what is often called “the digital divide.” People with less access have fewer opportunities for work or study and are therefore in an underprivileged position.
The funding from Washington will therefore first be used to bring broadband access to everyone across the Island. $85.7 million has been allocated to broadband infrastructure to make this possible. One of the primary projects will be the Puerto Rico Submarine Cable Resiliency (PRSCR) Program. This program will build a new submarine fiber route and three new cable landing stations along the coast.
$64.7 million has been set aside for multi-purpose community technology centers. These centers will have high-speed internet service and devices which can be used on-premise or borrowed for hime use. They will also provide training in the use of computers.
The centers will provide remote work spaces and educational opportunities, as well as access to healthcare. They are largely intended for people who do not have computers or internet connectivity at home, and function much as libraries do in providing that access.
The remaining funds will cover the costs of administering the programs.
The digital divide
A recent study commissioned by the Puerto Rico Sales and Marketing Executives Association found that 35% of the population did not have sufficient access to telecommunications. The people in this group tended to be older, less educated, with lower incomes. There were also more men than women in this group.
95.4% of residents of Puerto Rico have smartphones, and this is the preferred method of accessing the internet. like the relatively slow internet speed found on the Island, this reliance on phones is sufficient for email and casual web surfing, but creates limitations for business, employment, education, and healthcare access.
The new federal U.S. funding promises to help overcome these obstacles.