FCC Approves $237.9m for Broadband Networks in Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved $237.9 million in funding to “expand, improve, and harden mobile broadband networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands” over the course of the next three years. This funding also includes around $59.5 million specifically for the deployment of 5G networks in the territories. According to the FCC, this is “the first universal service funding the Commission has awarded anywhere in the country that is targeted for 5G deployment.”

The FCC awarded the funding to eligible mobile carriers that offered services in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands before Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated communication infrastructure on the islands. The funds aim to to “expand and harden 4G LTE networks and deploy next-generation 5G networks.” Selected carriers “were required to submit a detailed disaster preparation and response plan committing to measures and procedures for responding to future disasters. Specifically, the Commission required applicants for the funding to submit plans describing in detail how they would: (1) strengthen infrastructure; (2) ensure network diversity; (3) ensure backup power; (4) monitor networks; and (5) prepare for emergencies.”

“Over two years ago, communications infrastructure in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands was devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. “The Commission acted quickly to direct Universal Service Fund support to help restore communications networks damaged by the hurricanes. And through today’s action, we are taking a major step toward expanding, improving, and hardening mobile broadband networks on the islands. I’m especially pleased that we are providing the first universal service funding ever specifically targeted for the deployment of 5G networks so that consumers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands will benefit from the next generation of wireless connectivity.”

The FCC has divided the funding between different mobile carriers. AT&T will receive nearly $100 million, while Puerto Rico Telephone Company will receive $76.6 million and T-Mobile will receive $59.6 million. In the Virgin Islands, AT&T will receive an additional $4 million. The FCC noted that to date it has spent approximately $130 million in “extra universal service funding” through immediate hurricane relief efforts. The FCC added that more funding will be provided this summer for “high-cost support to the territories for fixed voice and broadband services.”