MMTC: Action Needed On Broadband In Puerto Rico

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The Minority and Media Telecommunications Council says the FCC needs to pay more attention to the broadband
needs of Puerto Rico, including reversing an earlier decision not to create a separate high-cost fund to help close the digital divide there.

In a letter to Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski and the other commissioners, MMTC pointed out that the recently released report on broadband deployment--found that there was virtually no broadband service to Puerto Rico and its 4 million citizens.

Given that the report concluded that broadband is "essential to participation in our 21st Century economy and
democracy," MMTC said that the FCC "cannot continue to sit idly by and allow the digital divide between Puerto Rico and the rest of America to grow even wider."

The group argued that past FCC's have ignored the problem, and that that has contributed to the "sorry state"
of infrastructure deployment.

MMTC averred that while the broadband report shows Puerto Rico has almost no broadband, it doesn't mention the
territory once in the report text. It also says that online broadband maps do not include data for Puerto Rico, instead treating it like Cuba or Mexico.

Adding to its litany of what it sees as FCC slights to Puerto Rico's communications' future, MMTC pointed to this commission's reversal in April of a tentative conclusion of the previous commission that a universal service fund be established for "insular areas." (Puerto Rico is defined as a non-rural.)
The FCC concluded that current high-cost fund support for Puerto Rico had been sufficiently increased -- by 54% between 1998 and 2008 -- that it wasn't necessary to create a new fund, and that phone penetration had increased sufficiently as well. The commission did propose targeted rule changes.
But the FCC's move dealt with phone service, and one of the reasons it said it was ruling against the separate fund was its recommendation in the National Broadband Plan to transition the high-cost fund from phone to broadband.

The agency suggested that an upcoming rulemaking on the universal service fund remake would be a more appropriate venue to address issues of broadband deployment. "The Commission will release a notice of proposed rulemaking later this year that will address the high-cost universal service recommendations of the National Broadband Plan, it said in the order declining to create the fund. "We encourage parties with information about any unique cost characteristics of providing broadband service in insular areas, such as Puerto Rico, to participate in these forthcoming proceedings and submit any relevant data."

The commission maintained that in the interim, "If PRTC were to receive additional support for voice service pursuant its proposed non-rural insular mechanism, it likely would be more difficult to transition that support to focus on areas unserved or underserved by broadband."

But MMTC said that was the wrong call. "This decision is unsupportable against the clear facts concerning the state of telecommunications and the poor economic situation in Puerto Rico," said MMTC, and stands "in stark and irreconcilable contrast with the Commission's decision -- on the same day -- to grant such supplemental support to Wyoming."

MMTC noted that the FCC can correct that decision by reversing it on a petition currently before it: "Doing so would jumpstart the construction of broadband infrastructure in Puerto Rico immediately."