*Correction-See Editor’s Note* The Federal Communications Commission has granted Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands $64 million in immediate, additional funding to accelerate the restoration of U.S. Virgin Islands communications networks that were damaged and destroyed during the 2017 hurricane season, according to Delegate Stacey Plaskett’s office.
In a statement, Plaskett said the money would assist local private telecommunication providers with their restoration efforts.
“Today’s action by the FCC represents a positive step toward rebuilding a smarter, more efficient and resilient Virgin Islands and is another example of the federal government responding to our requests to invest meaningful resources in rebuilding the territory to 21st century standards. Breakdowns in our telecommunications proved critical to the immediate disaster response in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Maria” she said.
She said former FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn was instrumental in supporting this funding after she visited and saw first-hand the telecommunications needs, in November 2016. Current FCC Chair Ajit Pai also visited the territory after the storms and honored the commitment to help restore the broadband network and other communications services.
The grant brings an immediate infusion of roughly $64 million in new funding for short-term restoration efforts, divided between the USVI and much larger Puerto Rico. The FCC will also convert $65.8 million in advanced funding the commission provided last year to carriers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands into new funding by declining to recover that advanced funding from future universal service support payments, according to Plaskett’s office.
While much of the funding is split between the two territories the FCC will solicit public comment on a proposal to allocate $186.5 million over the next decade to expand fixed broadband connectivity specifically in the USVI.
All facilities-based V.I. voice and broadband service providers are eligible to be involved, subject to receiving an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier designation. To participate, providers must certify their eligibility no later than 14 days after publication of the Order in the Federal Register.
“The commission has taken numerous actions to promote public safety and connectivity in the aftermath of last year’s hurricanes. In addition to providing public information on network outage conditions and sending staff to monitor and aid recovery efforts, the commission offered the territories nearly $77 million in advanced universal service funding to help recovery, accelerated the post-incentive auction transition to support U.S. Virgin Islands broadcasters, granted temporary waivers of Lifeline’s recertification rules, expedited approval of experimental licenses for Alphabet’s Project Loon to provide Internet access to residents, approved targeted and flexible E-Rate support to help restore connectivity of schools and libraries, and granted more than 500 waivers and requests for Special Temporary Authority to help re-establish communications in hurricane-affected areas,” Plaskett said.
Editor’s Note: A statement from Plaskett’s office indicated funding was for the USVI while the FCC indicates it was for both Puerto Rico and the USVI. The story has been updated to reflect that the funding is for both territories.