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FCC Chairman Proposes $950M to Improve, Expand, Harden Broadband Networks in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

by Jessica Denson, Director of Communications
Connected Nation

Washington, D.C. (September 5, 2019) - When Hurricane Dorian roared to life in the Atlantic and started making its way toward the Bahamas and Florida, it smashed records. The Category 5 storm is among the "most powerful tropical systems ever observed in the Atlantic Ocean."

According to a report in the Washington Post, Dorian ties the record for the strongest landfall winds (185 mph), is the strongest storm on record for the Bahamas, and gained strength at record speed. So far, twenty people are confirmed dead in the Bahamas, thousands of homes and businesses have been leveled, and the infrastructure of the islands is all but destroyed.

At this writing, the storm has lost strength and is a Category 2. Still, Dorian continues to pound the Carolinas with heavy rain, strong winds, and tornadoes.

Dorian's path of destruction is all too familiar. Just about two years ago, on September 9, 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This time, Puerto Rico got lucky—just barely. Hurricane Dorian grazed the main island hitting the US territory's smaller islands of Vieques and Culebra.

After Hurricane Maria Dod Image Puerto Rico shortly after Hurricane Maria hit. Photo: Department of Defense

It is in this climate that the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, is offering some relief for those still trying to rebuild and recover from past hurricane seasons. Pai announced yesterday that he's proposing the allocation of $950 million to improve, expand, and harden broadband networks in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"Now that most carriers have largely restored service, it is time to authorize long-term funding to ensure that everyone in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands has access to the same high-speed fixed and mobile broadband networks as other Americans," wrote Pai in his blog on the FCC's website. "And at the same time, we must storm-harden those communications networks so they can withstand the future hurricanes that will undoubtedly come and will continue to function when Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders need them most."

In 2018, the FCC created the Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund and the Connect USVI Fund which, as Pai mentioned, helped carriers on the islands restore their networks. That first wave of funding was for $64 million.

Now, the Chairman has submitted a draft Order that would finalize Stage 2 of the funds.

"I’m particularly pleased that the draft Order would create incentives for the deployment of gigabit-speed fixed broadband and 5G, the next generation of wireless connectivity, on the islands. My goal is simple: I want everyone in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to be connected with digital opportunity," Pai said.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on this second round of funding at the next Open Commission Meeting on Thursday, September 26.

Related Links and Articles:
After the Storm: Rebuilding Puerto Rico's Businesses
In Time's of Crisis: Technology's Role in Connecting Families, Friends
FCC Release on Draft Order 
Washington Post - Hurricane Dorian has smashed all sorts of intensity records in the Atlantic Ocean
Washington Post - Tracking Hurricane Dorian
CNET - FCC Offering Up $950M to Improve Broadband in Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands
FierceTelecom - FCC's Pai proposes $950M to broaden and harden broadband in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands