The Communications Act of 1934, as amended in 1996, directs the Federal Communications Commission to promote universal telecommunications service. The goal of universal service is that customers in all regions of the nation – including Puerto Rico – should have access to telecommunications services that are affordable and reasonably comparable to those provided to consumers in more urban areas.
Puerto Rico has a low rate of telephone service penetration and there is lack of adequate support for expanding these services. While mainland rural carriers with much higher penetration rates and a fraction of Puerto Rico’s service costs have received additional universal service funds, Puerto Rico’s high cost support was reduced from $50 million a year to zero.
Not adequately supporting universal service in Puerto Rico exacerbates inequalities, creates economic and social disadvantages for Puerto Rico’s rural counties and is contrary to Congress’ goal for a strong national telecommunications infrastructure.
- Puerto Rico’s penetration rate for telephone service stands below 70%.
- There are approximately 200 rural communities in Puerto Rico with up to 200,000 households that have no telephone infrastructure at all.
- Puerto Rico has actually experienced stagnation in dial tone penetration rates since the adoption of the Commission’s non-rural support mechanism.
- In Puerto Rico, high costs, lack of good roads, a shortage of highly trained personnel and volatile weather are among many factors that hamper build out and increase service costs.
Unless the Commission addresses universal service implementation in Puerto Rico, many U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico will continue to be placed at an educational, healthcare, social, and economic disadvantage relative to other Americans.
Low penetration rates translate into lagging economic and educational development, lack of access to basic health care and emergency services, and lagging access to advanced information services such as broadband and Internet.
In comments submitted in March 2006, HTTP joined a group nine leading advocacy organizations, under the leadership of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, to urge the FCC to resolve this issue. The comments were submitted in response to a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in which the FCC adopted a tentative conclusion to establish an insular mechanism for high-cost areas.
Puerto Rico should receive support under a separate insular mechanism and encourage the FCC to move to adopt it. We believe that long-term social and economic benefits would far outweigh the short-term costs of raising the level of support.