In a recent report by the U.S. GAO (Government Accountability Office), the U.S. is highlighted as having exceeded or equaled the best broadband resources in the world.  Amongst the 33 OECD countries, most of which are considered the most prosperous and economically free in the world, the U.S. excelled in most of the categories.  A statement by the SBE Council summarizes the results:

To sum up, the broadband story in the U.S. is impressive. Despite being one of the largest nations, with its population spread widely, U.S. broadband is comprehensively deployed; broadband speeds are above the average for developed nations (with some U.S. cities having the world’s fastest); and broadband subscribers are the most in the world, with above average subscribers per 100 households.

That’s a tribute to investments and innovations made by the nation’s broadband providers. It is, of course, critical that policymakers keep these impressive feats in mind when considering regulations and taxes in the broadband arena. A pro-competition, light regulatory touch policy regime clearly makes the most sense.[1]

Puerto Rico’s Contribution

Although Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, broadband investment and implementation on the island is dismal.  The MMTC (Minority Media and Telecommunications Council) pointed this out in a notice submitted ex parte to FCC commissioners on September 12th.[2]

Within the letter, MMTC lauds the Commission’s recent report on broadband deployment,[3] then commences to upbraid its oversight of the 4 million Hispanic U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico.

Given that the FCC’s report only makes mention of Puerto Rico in its appendices, MMTC may just be justified in its scorn.  Despite the existence of a federally-funded website by Recovery.gov, www.connectpr.org, which was created to provide statistical information on broadband implementation and infrastructure within Puerto Rico, the appendix suggests that the lack of information available to make an assessment of the island’s broadband infrastructure has prevented its inclusion in the report.

Facts Forgotten or Ignored

Perhaps the statistics presented to the FCC were so abysmal that they were ignored in order to improve the overall perception of the state of broadband amongst Americans.  If this was the Commission’s intent, it would be prudent to ignore irrefutable facts such as:

  • 1/6 of Americans “without broadband access” live in Puerto Rico;[4]
  • Although most Americans enjoy broadband download speeds of nearly 3.8 Mbps, most of Puerto Rico has download speeds of below 1.0 Mbps,[5] below that of Mexico (1.352 Mbps) and all 30 OECD countries;
  • Puerto Rico has a population greater than 24 U.S. states, representing the largest underserved, contiguous group of American citizens with substandard levels of broadband access;
  • The FCC has shown a consistent bias against Puerto Ricans, even going so far as to deny federally mandated funding to develop basic telephone wire line infrastructure.[6]

If the FCC sincerely wishes to ameliorate the overall broadband picture, it would be justified in addressing the largest portion of the 24 million citizens who they consider to not have broadband access.  Instead, it has shown a pattern of treating Puerto Ricans as if they are second-class citizens: denying Congressionally-mandated funding, denying a petition for Federal Universal Service Funds despite approving the same for Wyoming, a state whose population is 1/8 of Puerto Rico’s,[7] and consistently postponing discussions on the issues of Puerto Rico and its broadband access and infrastructure.

Why Puerto Ricans Matter

According to a recent Census report, Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics are nearly twice as likely to open a new business, but far less likely than non-minorities to hire employees or to be successful, even in the short run.[8] We at The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce see this as a direct result of the lack of tools and resources available to minorities, immigrants, and lower-income families, and are working hard to improve and develop programs for advancement.

Broadband access and adoption is at the forefront of this initiative as it helps provide access to markets that a local entrepreneur could never reach, resources for improved efficiency, networking opportunities with other successful businesses, and a vast array of other related tools, which will help to improve business, employment, economic development and freedom, and the overall well-being of Americans’ lives.

Conclusion

Although government intervention rarely proves the ultimate factor in improving IT and the overall economy, it should never allocate need-based resources to specific demographics, localities, or organizations based on anything but factual need.  If the U.S. intends to improve and continue its role as a world-leader in economic development, it must address IT infrastructure issues for all U.S. citizens, or the entire country may be destined for second-class status.

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