FCC's Pai wants $1B for networks in Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands

Chairman Ajit Pai steps up FCC efforts to help the island territories repair and expand wireless and broadband networks devastated by last year's hurricanes.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read
Puerto Rico Faces Extensive Damage After Hurricane Maria

Following Hurricane Maria, people headed to the hills of Puerto Rico to try to find a mobile phone signal. Nearly six months later, cell service is still not fully restored. 

Carolyn Cole

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is pledging $954 million to help restore and expand communications networks in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands that were badly damaged during the 2017 hurricane season.

The US island territories were hit with a one-two punch last September when Hurricanes Maria and Irma battered the region knocking out wireless, broadband and traditional phone networks. Nearly six months after the hurricanes, the FCC says 4.3 percent of cell sites in Puerto Rico and 14 percent of sites in the Virgin Islands remain out of service.

"The FCC's work is far from over," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. "With the 2018 hurricane season less than three months away, we need to take bold and decisive action."

Pai on Tuesday proposed new funds to help infrastructure providers fix and expand existing networks, Specifically, he's calling on the FCC to spend $64 million on short-term restoration, $631 million on long-term funding to be used to restore and expand fixed broadband, and $259 million to restore and expand 4G LTE mobile broadband.


The money is expected to come from the FCC's Universal Service Fund, which provides federal subsidies to wireless and broadband companies to provide affordable service where it's expensive to build networks. The five-member commission would need to vote to approve the allocation of the funds.

The FCC in October approved $77 million to help fund repairs for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, is visiting Puerto Rico this week. She tweeted from the island on Wednesday that nearly six months after the hurricane, some schools still don't have internet access.  "#LetsFixThis #PuertoRicoStrong," she added.

Pai is expected to make a trip to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands later this week. 

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